The Acting Vice Chancellor (with spectacles) together with UASU representatives

The International Labour Organization (ILO) has outlined that one of the most important factors in creating and strengthening unions is in working people coming together to talk about their problems at work and devising solutions based on collective action. In an institution such as Karatina University, the three unions-UASU, KUSU and KUDHEIHA- form part of the ecosystem that is crucial for the overall growth of the institution. Their role in ensuring that the plight of workers is looked into and mutually beneficial solutions are arrived at is important. In a proposed series of meetings that the Acting Vice Chancellor, Prof. Linus Gitonga, looks forward to holding with the Unions, he, today, held a consultative meeting with the leadership of the Universities Academic Staff Union (UASU).

The Ag. VC was joined by the Acting Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic, Research and Student Affairs), Prof. Hellen Kamiri, who challenged the UASU representatives to help preach to its members the gospel of resource mobilization through research. Funds accrued from resource mobilization, she said, would help bridge any financial burden that the University may be grappling with. She said that the University management is ready to facilitate any approvals required to support research. The Acting Deputy Vice Chancellor (Planning, Finance and Administration), Prof. Richard Kiai, on the other hand, noted that the success of the University is dependent upon the satisfaction of the members of staff. He said that it was important to solve any issues through dialogue.

Led by their Chairperson, Dr. Grace Muriithi, the union representatives presented a number of issues to the University management. Dr. Muriithi expressed the Union’s gratitude for being granted an opportunity to interact with the University management citing that such interactions signify new hope for growth of the institution as well as staff members.

Tenure of Tutorial Fellows

The Secretary General, Dr. James Gichuki, who was the spokesperson of the team, presented six issues on behalf on the entire academic fraternity. The first was the security of tenure of forty three (43) Tutorial Fellows who have acquired the necessary requirements for promotion but have stagnated in the same position some as far back as 2012. The Union made a proposal for the Tutorial Fellows to be moved to Assistant Lecturers. Such a move, it was noted, would make the said staff feel valued and, in turn, create a sense of belonging to the University. The Ag. VC asked the Union leaders to advise the affected staff to send their requests for review of terms of service to the Registrar (Planning and Administration) by end of week. He stated that their cases would be considered in accordance with the requirements stipulated in the Scheme of Service and other institutional legislations.

Collective Bargaining Agreement

The stalled Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) was another key point of discussion. According to the Secretary General, no negotiations for a new CBA have taken place since 2013. Specific request was made to review mileage/transport allowance as well as subsistence allowance in order to reflect the current demands of the economy. He called upon the University to harness the potential to negotiate the CBA since Unions are willing to hold such deliberations. The Ag. VC reiterated that the University is ready to engage on negotiations where the issue of the allowances can be reviewed. He, however, challenged them to be fully conversant with the procedures of the CBA negotiation process so as to avoid any impediments with government agencies such as the Salaries and Remuneration Commission.

 Access to medical services

Along the same line, the Union raised the issue of provision of medical services and the need for staff to have access to hospitals with national reach. They were, nevertheless, grateful that the process for implementation of this initiative had already been kick started by the University. Both parties agreed to give the process an opportunity to reach its conclusive end.

Devolving examination processing

A lecturer’s duty, according to the Secretary General of the Union, is to teach, research and engage in community service. He, however, noted that these Terms of Service have been overburdened by the inclusion of processing examinations. This has been discouraging particularly to the Heads of Departments who have had to take up administrative duties as well. To alleviate the burden, it was proposed that the University creates an Examination Office tasked with examination processing and its attendant requirements. Such an Office can eventually be devolved to be domiciled in a School or Faculty. This would, then, ensure that academic staff are left to deliver on their mandate of quality teaching, research and counselling of students. The Ag. VC noted that such a move would require a major shift involving a sit-in with relevant stakeholders in order to chart an appropriate way forward. His vision, he stated, is to automate all systems and other operational functions of the University including examination processing.

Scheme of Service

The Union representatives also brought to the fore the issue of the Scheme of Service noting that it would be prudent for the members of the academic staff to know which particular Scheme was in active use. With that said, they implored the University management, in the spirit of transparency, accountability and good faith, to consider reviewing the Scheme of Service. The Ag.VC agreed that, for ease of administration, the Scheme would be reviewed in order to work out any inconsistencies. This would, however, require some time for the process to be initiated as the University awaits substantive appointment of top management. He noted, though, that it is possible for the review process to start in the 1st Quarter of the 2023/2024 FY, that is, September 2023, and be completed in the 2nd Quarter, that is, December, 2023.

Academic representation

Lastly, the issue of representation in terms of elected versus appointed Deans of Schools was also deliberated on. The Union leaders noted that when a qualified academic staff expresses interest to become the Dean of a School and the eligible ones are elected, the elected Deans will work with a sense of responsibility and their loyalty will not be lost. Such Deans can also be eligible for re-election based on their performance. The Ag. VC noted that for such a change to occur, where a Dean is elected rather than appointed, it would require the amendment of the University Statutes.

Other points to note is the Ag. VC’s challenge to the Union representatives to push for the automatic conferment of incremental credits to academic staff who attain a doctorate degree. He also noted the need to establish proper systems and structures that recognize and proffer due respect to each member of staff. He looks forward to building a culture of respect for one another which will, in turn, impact the community we live in and the families we come from.

The Ag. VC looks forward to eventually meeting with representatives from the Kenya Universities Staff Union (KUSU), KUDHEIHA as well as both the academic and non-academic staff members.