High Court blocks USIU from cutting staff perks

Monday, October 12th, 2020 00:00 |
Cash. Photo/PD/Courtesy

United States International University (USIU)-Africa has been barred from deducting salary and benefits pending hearing and determination of a case filed by lecturers. 

The university had issued circulars to 54 full-time lecturers informing them they would be subjected to salary cuts with forfeiture of entire benefits allegedly owing to the effects of coronavirus pandemic. 

However, Prof Maina Macharia and 53 of his colleagues moved to court seeking interim orders restraining the institution and Vice-Chancellor from effecting the intended deduction. 

In his ruling, Justice Onesmus Makau of  the Employment and Labour Relations Court stopped Vice-Chancellor Prof Paul Zeleza or his agents from deducting lecturers’ salary.

“l hereby issue an exparte interim injunction restraining the university,  Zeleza, their servants or agents from proceeding with intended deduction of lecturers’ salary and benefits communicated through the letter addressed to each of the claimants or in any way intimidate, terminate dismiss or interfere with the existing employment terms and conditions pending the hearing and determination of this application,” ordered Makau.

Some of the lecturers include Prof James Ngari, Prof Francis Wambala, Emma Wamai, Joseph Nyanoti, Jane Muasya, Benard Messiah, George Achoki, Wanjiku Mbugua, Jeremiah Koshal, Githaiga Njoroge, Elizabeth Ntambi and Naumi Noah among others. 

Petitioners argue that if the move by USIU and VC is not stopped, they stand to suffer irreparably as the institution shall proceed and effect its intention of effecting salary deductions and stoppage of benefits.

“That the applicants herein would suffer irreparable damages should they be compelled to take irredeemable salary cuts and have their entire benefits suspended yet they incur personal expenses to conduct  or ensure smooth running of the online classes, which have normal student enrolment rates with almost zero fee rebates,”  the court papers.

Abrupt decision

They argue that they are aggrieved by the said abrupt decision and have challenged the university to vacate its position of requiring them to agree to salary cuts from September 15 to allow for further consultations.

However, the university is still adamant on proceeding with the said move necessitating the filing of the suit and seeking urgent protection orders from the court.

“The applicants herein are core staff, who have continued to discharge their duties with utmost diligence even after the first case of Covid-19 was reported in the country. 

They are proceeding normally with their duties albeit virtually with normal student enrolment rates with payment of full fees complete with enrolment of new students,” the petition. 

The lecturers were apprehensive that from September 15, USIU shall proceed and effect deductions of salary and forfeiture of benefits, which will not only render the application herein nugatory, but also cause them financial hardship and embarrassment.

“The university has already written to the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of USIU Staff Retirement Benefits Scheme to the effect that the Respondent had resolved to suspend the employer-employee contribution for a period of  four months and the same was written without consultations with the Claimants.

This is patently illegal since the Retirement Benefits Authority (RBA) has issued a “Circular dated April 23, which requires the employer to seek consensus of the members that should be evidenced their signatures or a joint affidavit by the employer and the trustees. This has not happened,” petitioners. 

They argue that it is not open for the varsity to seek to suspend the contributions of the claimants to the Pension Scheme yet the petitioners are at work and receiving a salary from the Respondent with the decision being sought to be undertaken without the concurrence of the Claimants and the relevant pension scheme.

Another key benefit that will be withdrawn/suspended effective September 15, is Employee-Tuition Waiver (ETW), which will have serious implications on the children of the applicants studying at the respondent at the moment. 

Such a move of doing away with the ETW needs sufficient notice to enable the Applicants with own children in class transfer them to institutions they can afford. 

Deducting salaries from the Applicants and further requiring them to pay tuition fees for their children in the range of Sh120,000 to Sh130,000 per semester is unfair.

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