More than 180 Facebook moderators working in Kenya have obtained orders preserving their immigration status after their employer issued termination letters.
The employees initially worked for Samasource Kenya EPZ (Sama), which was contracted by Facebook owner Meta Platforms Inc and Meta Platforms Ireland Limited to work in Kenya as moderators.
The workers say in an urgent petition filed at the Employment and Labour Relations Court that they were given nine working days to clear with Sama, after which they will have no status to stay in Kenya.
Their lawyer Mercy Mutemi termed the move as “a blatant show of disregard to the Court orders and the sanctity of the judicial process and a clear intimidation by the Respondents.”
“Terminating the contracts of the petitioners in this manner is gravely prejudicial considering there is a live petition before this Honourable Court challenging the termination of contracts and the interim orders subsisting,” Ms Mutemi said in the petition.
Justice Byram Ongaya on Friday issued new orders preserving the immigration status of all foreign petitioners and allowing them to remain in Kenya lawfully.
“That pending the inter-partes hearing or further orders by the Court, orders are hereby granted preserving the immigration status of foreign petitioners herein being Facebook content moderators and allowing them to remain in Kenya lawfully,” the judge said.
The judge directed the case to be mentioned on May 11.
It was further revealed that Sama has also withheld salaries for a section of moderators with some being asked to clear before receiving their dues.
The Facebook moderators moved to court in March and blocked their termination but Meta challenged the case, arguing that Kenyan courts do not have jurisdiction to determine a case brought against foreign entities.
The application was rejected, with the court saying the dispute revolves around the employer-employee relationship and it is immaterial whether the alleged violations occur in physical or virtual space within Kenya.
“The court will consider the nature and extent of liability with regard to the alleged breaches and violations of the Constitution arising and or related to employment and Labour relations in Kenya,” Justice Mathews Nduma said.
The content moderators initially worked for Samasource Kenya EPZ (Sama) but they claimed Meta terminated the contract and was planning to hire new people.
The employees said they were engaged as Facebook content moderators.
They told the court that the Content Moderation Centre in Nairobi serves the larger Eastern and Southern Africa.
They further revealed that considering the variety of languages spoken in the region, workers are drawn from different countries to moderate posts in the local language.
They want the court to declare the termination unlawful and order their reinstatement.