Five researchers have sued the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) after they were replaced last year over claims of reduced donor funding.
The five claim in court documents that they were replaced with casuals and interns they mentored, which they said is an affront to their dignity.
Nelly Akinyi, Ibrahim Oyawa, Hannignton Omolo, Eric Ojwang and Maureen Adhiambo said in a petition filed at the Employment and Labour Relations Court that the termination of their contracts is unfair and unlawful.
The five claim that they expected to work at the organisation until 2025 when the grant by AMREF would end or as long as funds are provided by the State or donor partners.
“This was not about merit or experience but gross abuse of power, and public office to the detriment of our rights to legitimate expectation, fair labour practices and presumption of permanent employment due to such long periods of employment,” the petition states.
They claimed that they have worked at Kemri for between seven and 18 years and their contracts were continuously renewed so long as funds are available, creating legitimate expectations.
They moved to court seeking to stop the employer from replacing them through a policy to reduce jobs and increase salaries ‘for a few chosen’.
They argued that they would suffer prejudice as their salaries are tied to school fees, medical care and livelihood.
Kemri gets funding from AMREF and other donor organisations, including the Center for Disease Control by the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and Kenya government.
Court documents state that the organisation had an internal advertisement in October 2022 requiring those with five years of experience to apply.
All of them qualified but the requirements were later amended and changes were made to research scientists in HIV/EID laboratories only.
The organisation is the principal investigator of HIV/EID (Early Infant Diagnosis) and TB programmes, where they were attached.
They want the court to declare that it was unfair and unlawful labour practice and discriminatory to continuously keep them under long-term contracts, and they should be deemed permanent and pensionable.
Trouble started last year over claims of fund reduction from AMREF but they were allegedly informed that the organisation was implementing a salary scale that would see the staff numbers reduced and the remaining ones paid higher salaries.