Panic as Judiciary embarks on mass demotions of staff

The Supreme Court building in Nairobi

The Supreme Court building in Nairobi. The Judiciary has embarked on a mass demotion of staff as part of plans to cut costs by reducing the number of job grades in its human resource systems.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

The Judiciary has embarked on a mass demotion of staff as part of plans to cut costs by reducing the number of job grades in its human resource systems, a move that has now fuelled unease among workers who may be affected.

Hundreds of Judiciary workers are expected to be demoted, with the bar for promotion being set a notch higher on account of fewer job grades.

Some workers are, however, expected to get promotions and pay rises, especially those whose educational qualifications were higher than the minimum requirements for their job grades.

The new job grade system was structured during the tenure of former Chief Justice David Maraga in 2019 but only took effect last month when the Judiciary started notifying affected staff of the demotions.

Details of the cost-cutting measures have been revealed in a court case filed by Mr Japheth Mogire Okong’o, who is seeking to quash his demotion to process server. Mr Okong’o has filed a petition in the Employment and Labour Relations division of the High Court, citing discrimination and abrupt implementation of the directive that, he argues, is illegal and unfair.

The court papers indicate that the reduction of job grades from 17 to 11 was resolved at a Judicial Service Commission (JSC) meeting held on October 17, 2019.

On September 29, 2022, the JSC held another meeting in which it resolved to start implementing the austerity measures aimed at reducing operational costs.

Mr Okong’o argues that the JSC violated the rights of workers in the scrapped job grades by implementing the directives without collecting views from bearers of the affected offices.

Mr Okong’o joined the Judiciary as a casual worker in 1996 but rose through the ranks over the years. He was appointed court bailiff in 2015 after applying and being interviewed for the position.

In a letter dated January 23, 2023, the Judiciary informed Mr Okong’o that he did not meet the minimum requirement for court bailiff under the new job structure and hence was being demoted to process server.

Frozen annual increments

While his salary was kept the same, he has been frozen from getting annual increments given to Judiciary staff.

Mr Okong’o says his performance appraisals have been positive in the eight years he has been a court bailiff.

The position will be held by staff who have served in the same position for less than five years and who have a Bachelor’s degree, the court papers indicate.

Mr Okong’o adds that the Judiciary is discriminating against him on account of his disability. He was involved in an accident in 2003 while working as a process server.

“I immediately got in touch with the human resource directorate who informed me through an email that, since I was a person living with disability and I was to serve up to 65 years, I could not be retained in the same position as my peers,” Mr Okong’o says in court papers.

“The respondent’s actions have created the possibility of degrading the human dignity of the petitioner [Mr Okong’o] in violation of Article 28 of the Constitution,” Mr Okong’o adds.

Mr Okong’o was informed through a letter that he is free to apply for promotion in future if he furthers his studies.

Promotions and pay rises have remained a silent but raw nerve in the Judiciary over the years.

Justice James Rika has certified Mr Okong’o’s petition as urgent and directed that he serve the JSC with the pleadings.

The judge has, however, declined to issue orders suspending the demotion.


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