Job cuts loom as Egerton VC stares at prison over debts

Striking Egerton University lecturers

Striking Egerton University lecturers and other staff wait to be addressed by their union leaders on March 20, 2018. The university owes the workers more than Sh1 billion in salaries. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Egerton University has a monthly wage bill of more than Sh200 million.
  • Egerton University owes about 600 lecturers more than Sh1 billion in deferred salaries.

Cash-strapped Egerton University has declared more than 1,500 redundancies across all cadres of employees to be implemented this year as the institution struggles to settle salaries and statutory deductions.

The announcement comes just days after Vice-Chancellor Ongubo Kibwage narrowly escaped prison after being found in contempt of court in a case involving Egerton debts.

“Following the difficulties the university has undergone in meeting the full requirements for staff and other emoluments and benefits, the University Council – on advice – has reached a decision to declare staff redundancies across all cadres in a bid to manage the wage bill,” said the notice signed by Acting Deputy VC (Administration, Planning and Development) Richard Mulwa.

“The redundancies are meant to bring more efficiency in delivering the university mandate to its employees and customers.”

Prof Mulwa added that the process would be fair and within the confines of the law.

Egerton University has a monthly wage bill of more than Sh200 million.

For many lecturers and non-teaching employees, however, the notice has not come as a surprise.

“The crisis at Egerton University is not surprising if you have been closely following the decline at this institution,” one of the lecturers told Higher Education after the release of the notice.

“The management and the University Council have failed in their duties. How come other public universities remain afloat? There must be something terribly wrong with the way the management has handled this crisis.”

Prof Kibwage missed a 30-day prison term by a whisker for contempt of court last year.

Luckily, the penalty had the alternative of a Sh100,000 fine.

He had been accused of slashing lecturers’ salaries illegally in 2020.

Apart from Prof Kibwage, eight other members of the University Council were fined for ignoring the order by the court to pay lecturers their full salaries.

The council members are  Dr Hukka Wario who is the chairman, Mr Paul K’Angira, Mr Julius Mutua, Mr Wilson Ronno, Ms Charity Nyaga, Mr John Ondari, Ms Esther Wabuge and Mr Joshua Otieno.

The university cited the global coronavirus pandemic as the main reason for slashing employees pay.

However, the Employment and Labour Relations Court in Nakuru found the nine guilty of disobeying court directives adding that blaming Covid-19 lacked merit as the university did not produce evidence that its finances were affected by the pandemic.

Egerton University owes about 600 lecturers more than Sh1 billion in deferred salaries.

Pressure is also mounting from state agencies like Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) and the Retirement Benefits Authority (RBA) to have Egerton University property attached.

Employees say the university has not honoured their contributions to the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) and National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF).

Savings and Credit Societies (saccos), banks and a host of other organisations are also demanding their cut.

“Every professor is owed more than Sh2 million while a junior lecturer is demanding Sh1 million,” University Academic Staff Union (Uasu) Egerton University Chapter Secretary Grace Kibue told reporters.

“If this stalemate does not end soon, the arrears are likely to hit Sh2 billion.”

Lecturers’ salaries for November were not settled in full as ordered by the court.

Prof Kibwage and the Egerton University Council now stare at yet another contempt of court charge.

“The court ordered the university management to revert to full payment of salaries but the directive was ignored. We are heading back to court for further directions,” Dr Kibue said.

The main case, seeking a declaration that the reduction of salaries was unlawful and permanent orders barring the university management from effecting the same, will be heard on January 25.

The 46th graduation ceremony at Egerton University was suspended due to the financial problems.

“We did not hold the ceremony as there were very few graduands. It was not economically viable. The management said it would not be financially sound to  fund the event,”  a lecturer who was familiar with the preparations told Higher Education.

Hundreds of workers affiliated to Uasu, the Kenya Universities Staff Union (Kusu) and Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotels, Educational Institutions, Hospitals and Allied Workers (Kudheiha) withdrew their services in November last year, citing the slashing of their salaries.

The aggrieved staff are pushing the university management to implement the 2017-21 collective bargaining agreement signed years ago.

Prof Kibwage blames the stalemate on Treasury not sending money to the university.

“Our internally generated money is not enough to settle employees’ full salaries,” the VC said.

In vain has the Uasu Egerton University Chapter appealed to President William Ruto to intervene and help end the financial crisis at the Njoro-based institution. 

The lecturers’ union says its members have suffered dehumanising evictions by landlords for failing to settle house rent.

“Many of our members have seen their properties taken and auctioned by creditors for not repaying whatever they borrowed in time,” Dr Kibue said.

She added that the situation is growing worse by the day as the university has slashed contributions to the employees’ pension from 20 per cent of the monthly salary to a mere one per cent, “even with the meagre pay”.

“Uasu members have been subjected to pecuniary embarrassment by banks and other financial institutions which recover loans from salary accounts,” Uasu Secretary-General Constantine Wasonga said.

Kusu Secretary-General Charles Mukhwaya said union members and their families are living in squalid conditions and that their social lives have been disrupted as they do not receive salary promptly.

“The Egerton University Council must settle 100 per cent of our members’ salaries immediately,” Dr Mukhwaya said.

“Pay the accumulated arrears, reinstate and respect our members negotiated terms and conditions of service as per the collective bargaining agreement.”