Reprieve as court orders KeMU to pay or reinstate sacked employees

The Kenya Methodist University campus in Meru County. FILE PHOTO | PHOEBE OKALL | NMG
The Kenya Methodist University campus in Meru County. FILE PHOTO | PHOEBE OKALL | NMG 

The Kenya Methodist University (KeMU) has suffered a blow after a court overturned their decision to sack 60 employees.

The Employment and Labour Relations Court ordered the university to pay each employee a gross salary of six months together with redundancy dues by September 1 or reinstate them.

The university has been directed to file and serve a notice on whether they will pay or reinstate the employees.

Failure to serve the notice by July 31, the court said it will be deemed they have opted to reinstate the employees who will be required to report back to work starting August 1.

Justice Byram Ongaya in the ruling said the institution did not follow section (40) (1) (C) of the Employment Act, 2017 in firing the employees.

“The declaration that the university in identifying the claimants didn’t comply with the provisions of (40) (1) (C) of the Employment Act, 2017 as redundancy was unfair, irregular and unprocedural.

'Null and void'

The termination of the claimants' employment by the respondent on account of redundancy was unfair, irregular and hence null and void..., ’’ ruled Justice Ongaya in a 20-page ruling.

The institution was also ordered to pay the legal fees of the claimants.

The court had earlier given an order staying the redundancy until the matter was heard and determined.

Through their lawyer, Lucy Kaaria, the claimants argued that the university had failed to disclose the criteria used to determine the employees as redundant and did not comply with conditions as provided by section (40) (1) (C) of the Employment Act, 2017.

"The section states that an employer shall not terminate a contract of service on account of redundancy unless the employer complies with the following conditions-(C) the employer has in the selection of employees to be declared redundant had due regard to seniority in time and to skill, ability and reliability of each employee of the particular class of employee affected by redundancy’’.

While delivering the judgment, the court found that there was no objective comparative analysis with respect to all employees.

“One of the claimants Catherine Munyi was identified because she allegedly failed to score 26 per cent in semesters in 2016 and 2017. It was obvious that her alleged performance lack comparative analysis for employees over the same period and who were lecturers like herself ,’’ said Justice Ongaya.

Not consulted

The court noted that the university issued a 30-day statutory notice but the employees were not involved in consultations to minimise terminations and to deal with adverse consequences of looming redundancy.

“Evidence and material on the record suggest that the employees were mysteriously targeted for redundancy upon one reason or the other without the university designing and uniformly applying objective criteria to all the employees,’’ the court stated.

However, the university argued the dismissal followed a report by human resources committee, which was presented to the university council stating the reasons for identification of the employee’s termination of employment.

KeMU further argued that the chaplaincy and university counselors would provide pastoral and psychological support to help employees cope and adjust to the changes but the court found out the same was not done.

In May, KeMU closed two of its campuses and sacked over 150 employees.

According to court documents, among the campuses shut include Nyeri, Maua, Nakuru and Marimanti.

In a termination letter sent to affected staff, the institution attributed the move to sack them to "dynamics affecting the education sector in the entire Kenyan economy".