The law provides that workers, including those in export processing zones (EPZs), are free to form and join unions of their choice. Any seven or more workers in an enterprise have the right to form a union by registering with the trade union registrar. If the registrar denies registration, a union may appeal to the courts. The new constitution no longer explicitly prohibits members of the armed forces, police, prisons service, and the administration police from forming or joining unions. However, it permits legislation that does so, a reference to the 2007 Labor Relations Act, which continued in effect.
The law permits workers in collective bargaining disputes to strike but requires the exhaustion of formal conciliation procedures and seven days’ notice to both the government and the employer. The law permits the government to deny workers the right to strike under certain conditions. For example, members of the military, police, prison guards, and the National Youth Service are prohibited from striking. Other civil servants are allowed to strike following the seven-day notice period. The Ministry of Labor typically referred disputes to mediation, fact-finding, or binding arbitration at the industrial court, a body of up to five judges appointed by the president. During mediation any strike is illegal, thus removing legal prohibitions on employer retaliation against strikers. In addition, a Ministry of Labor referral of a dispute to the conciliation process nullifies the right to strike. By law those who provide essential services, defined as “a service the interruption of which would probably endanger the life of a person or health of the population,” are not allowed to strike. Any trade dispute in a service that is listed as or is declared to be an essential service may be adjudicated upon by the industrial court.
The law provides the right of collective bargaining to every trade union, employer’s organization, and employer. Workers in the military, prisons, and the National Youth Service, however, do not have this right. The law also provides that collective labor disputes must first undergo conciliation, although conciliation is not compulsory in individual employment matters. Security forces cannot bargain collectively but have an internal board that reviews salaries. Other groups that cannot bargain collectively, such as health sector workers, have associations rather than unions, which negotiate wages and conditions that match the government’s minimum wage guidelines. In 2011 a total of 361 collective bargaining agreements were negotiated and registered by the industrial court.
The law allows employers in some industries to dismiss workers regardless of the provisions of their collective bargaining agreements. The bill of rights in the 2010 constitution allows trade unions to undertake their activities without government interference, and the government generally respected this right.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement for workers dismissed for union activity. The industrial court can order reinstatement and damages in the form of back pay for employees wrongfully dismissed for union activities. All labor laws are intended to apply to all groups of workers. In practice migrant workers often lacked formal organization and consequently missed the benefits of collective bargaining. Similarly, domestic workers, commercial sex workers, and others who operated in private spaces were vulnerable to exclusion from legal protections.
Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were generally respected in practice. The government expressed its support for union rights as mandated in the constitution. Due to human and material resource constraints, the government did not always effectively protect union rights. Worker organizations were independent of both the government and political parties. Civil servants were active members of worker organizations. At year’s end none of the country’s security forces had joined unions, although the Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU) continued to advocate on their behalf for this right. The government continued to encourage a strengthened labor dispute system, but the decisions of the industrial court were not enforced consistently. Many employers did not comply with the court’s reinstatement orders, and some workers accepted payment in lieu of reinstatement. In several cases employers successfully appealed the industrial court’s decisions to the High Court. The enforcement mechanisms of the industrial court remained weak, and its case backlog raised concerns regarding the efficacy of the court.
The industrial court continued to receive an increased number of cases arising from the implementation of new labor laws. The majority of cases were filed directly by the parties without referring them to the Ministry of Labor for conciliation. There were 2,240 cases filed with the industrial court during 2011, up from 1,630 in 2010. Of these, 2,150 were trade disputes, with the remaining cases being appeals, cases transferred from the High Court, recognition disputes, and miscellaneous applications. In 2011 the five judges of the industrial court announced a total of 894 awards and rulings, which included cases from previous years. The industrial court was established to provide for quick resolution of labor disputes, yet cases in the backlog dated to 2007. The chief justice designated all courts presided over by magistrates in the 47 newly established counties as special courts to hear and determine employment and labor cases. The five judges of the industrial court went on strike in March to protest the selection of new judges for the court. The president swore in 11 industrial court judges in July, while the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Labor fired four judges who previously went on strike. All judges were vetted in accordance with the constitution; the government intended to have 67 judges on the industrial court.
Some antiunion discrimination occurred, including in garment plants in EPZs. Mass dismissals were the tactic of choice by employers punishing their workers for taking strike action or simply joining a union. Workers dismissed for joining a union included more than 100 truck drivers, 50 textile workers, and 19 oil workers. Nearly 600 postal workers received dismissal notices for taking part in a strike, as did 50 cut flower workers. Two officials from the electrical workers’ union, the Kenya Electrical Trades and Allied Workers’ Union, were arrested during a strike in March. There were also many reports that workers in Nairobi’s industrial zone were dismissed arbitrarily.
On October 10, Francis Atwoli, general secretary of COTU, was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment. The High Court found that Atwoli defied a court decision that forbade an allegedly illegal strike by tea plantation workers. The court decision reportedly did not violate any International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions.
During the year NGOs and trade unionists continued to report a growing trend toward the elimination of permanent positions in favor of casual or contract labor, especially in EPZs and the agricultural and manufacturing sectors. In many cases the job was permanent, but an employer staffed it with rotating contract workers. This practice occurred at the management level as well, where employers hired individuals as management trainees and kept them in this position for the maximum permitted period of three years. Instead of converting such trainees to permanent staff, they were replaced by new trainees. Casual employment continued to grow, accounting for 32 percent of total wage employment for the most recent period for which figures were available. This trend continued to increase across sectors.
The majority of strikes were in the public sector. Public sector strikes were resolved peacefully with no violence or intimidation from the police. Teachers struck on September 3, citing government inaction on implementing 1997 and 2009 collective bargaining agreements. A major source of contention was disparity in teachers’ salaries in relation to other civil service employees. On September 24, union leaders ratified an agreement with the government to end the three-week strike. The agreement, which effectively harmonized teachers’ salaries with those of other civil service employees, came just hours before a government-imposed deadline for teachers to return to work or be fired. The Teachers Service Commission, in consultation with the teachers’ unions, drafted a return-to-work formula to assure that teachers were not punished for striking and would receive their September salary.
There were no incidents of police violence against protesters in the teachers’ strike. Press reports indicated that, in the Imenti North District, police fired in the air to repulse striking teachers who marched into the Meru Technical Training College to disrupt head teacher training. Similar disturbances were reported in Kiriyanga county, where striking teachers held 270 principals and primary school teachers hostage. Armed police were deployed, but no injuries or fatalities were reported. In solidarity with the September 3 teachers’ strike, the Universities Academic Staff Union struck on September 6. University of Nairobi students took to the streets in downtown Nairobi on September 20 and stoned cars while engaging the police in running battles. The strike ended with a three-year collective bargaining agreement retroactively implemented from 2010 through 2013 that included a 33.1 percent salary increase and a 14.27 percent increase in housing allowances.
Tens of thousands of nurses from the Kenyan Health Professionals Society (KHPS) and the National Nurses Association of Kenya (NNAK) went on strike in March for two weeks over remuneration that had been previously agreed but not paid. The government responded by firing 25,000 nurses; it later rescinded the firing actions, promising to address the nurses’ complaints. On September 18, the NNAK issued a one-week strike notice to press for a salary increase agreed to in 2010, as well as improved services in public hospitals. On September 27, nurses at Moi Referral hospital announced plans to return to work after the hospital agreed to implement promotions of nurses and pay extraneous allowances. The KHPS threatened to strike again in October after no real progress was made in negotiations with the government but had not carried out the threat by year’s end.
The Kenya National Union of Nurses submitted a letter to the Registrar of Trade Unions in a bid to form a single union geared particularly towards representing nurses. In November the registrar rejected the application, stating that nurses were sufficiently represented by other entities. The result was a legal battle with the Union of Kenya Civil Servants and a strike by the nurses on December 2. The industrial court upheld the right of nurses to register their union. The nurses returned to work, but the legal battle was unresolved at year’s end.
On September 17, junior police officers ended a week-long “go-slow” action, during which police purposely jammed the communication network used to coordinate traffic flow, causing gridlock on major roads in Nairobi and other towns. The officers were protesting a delayed salary increase that they had been promised in 2007. The government implemented the changes by year’s end.
On April 10, the Kenya Aviation Authority (KAA) fired striking workers who failed to report to work in a protest over low pay. Other government agencies, including police, took over the roles of the striking workers. The 1,300 members of the Aviation and Allied Workers Union struck for more than a week. COTU obtained a court order barring the KAA from firing striking workers, but the court also ordered the striking employees to call off the strike and resume duty. On April 11, the strike was resolved and the workers reinstated.
Kenya Airways fired 447 employees, asserting that their positions had been abolished. The workers took the matter to the industrial court, which ruled that they could not be fired. The Federation of Kenya Employers were concerned that the message sent to private employers and investors was that staff could not be let go. The industrial court blocked reinstatement until Kenya Airways’ appeal was heard and determined. The case had not been decided at year’s end.
The Rift Valley Railways Workers Union sued Rift Valley Railways Ltd. in an attempt to stop the dismissal of 112 employees. Rift Valley Railways held the positions were obsolete and offered a severance package of 120,000 shillings ($1,400) and other benefits. The case had not been decided at year’s end.