Workers of African Nazarene University who were sent on unpaid leave because of the Covid-19 pandemic have been asked by the Labour court to negotiate a solution to their dispute with the employer.
Justice Stephen Radido declined to grant a request by the Kenya Private Universities Workers Union to restrain the university from effecting any salary reduction.
Instead, the judge directed the two sides to hold talks and agree on a solution that will preserve jobs and not lead to the financial ruin of the university. The agreement should be deposited with the office of the Commissioner of Labour within 30 days, ordered Justice Radido.
The judge took into consideration the economic challenges facing educational institutions which rely mainly on fees from students to finance their operations and pay staffers.
In his decision, the judge also considered the need to preserve jobs rather than an application of the technicality of the law which may have adverse consequences on both the employer and employees.
The union moved to court after the university issued a circular to all staff and employees informing them that due to the Covid-19 pandemic and suspension of learning, all staff would be sent on unpaid leave with effect from June 15, 2020.
The circular dated May 15 indicated that further instructions would be issued on August 31, 2020. It also advised the staff that during the leave, they would be paid the equivalent of 30 per cent of their housing allowance.
In a virtual meeting held between the union and the university on May 20, 2020, the instituttion maintained that because of the prevailing circumstances it would not reverse its decision on leave without pay and the house allowance.
But Justice Radido ordered the learning institution to continue paying full house allowance at pre-Covid-19 rates including a refund of arrears to all unionisable employees.
“Section 31 of the Employment Act, 2007 at the first instance obligates an employer to provide at his own expense reasonable housing accommodation for each employee or in default to pay such sufficient sum to cover rent,” said Justice Radido.
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