Egerton university vice-chancellor Prof Isaac Kibwage and his entire council members are staring at a civil jail term or a fine not exceeding Sh 200,000 after being found guilty of contempt of court.
The Employment and Labour relations court in Nakuru is on Thursday set to deliver its sentence against Prof Kibwage and the eight university council members after it held them in contempt for disobeying orders issued by the court to reinstate the lecturer’s full salaries.
Prof Kibwage and the Council members, including Chairperson Dr Hukka Wario, Paul K’Angira, Julius Mutua, Wilson Ronno, Charity Nyaga, John Ondari, Esther Wabuge and Joshua Otieno were present in court when the ruling was being delivered.
Justice David Nderitu in his ruling noted that Prof Kibwage and the council members deliberately decided to disobey court orders and hide from the court without giving reasons for their non-compliance.
The judge noted that the university top bosses had failed to provide evidence that they had tried to comply with any of the orders issued on May 30 and thus had violated the lecturers’ labour rights.
“The respondents have wilfully and blatantly refused to honour court order and never gave the order the seriousness it deserves. I find that all the respondents are in contempt of court,” ruled Justice Nderitu.
The ruling followed an application filed on June 13 by the University Academic Staff union Egerton University chapter secretary Dr Grace Kibue who sought to have the university’s top administrators punished for not obeying the orders issued on May 30.
The orders required the university to pay the lecturers’ 100 per cent salary.
The UASU had moved to court accusing the institution of illegally imposing a 40 per cent pay cut on the lecturer’s salaries as punishment to their members who participated in the strike.
Dr Kibue had told the court that UASU and the university leadership signed the return to work formula on March 4, 2022 to end the strike which was later decreed in court.
The court in its orders restrained the university from adjusting or deferring members’ salaries which reduced the gross monthly pay to what was gross pay as of November 31, 2021.
However, the university failed to honour the order forcing the lecturers to institute contempt proceedings against them.
The university in its defence, however, claimed that the university was experiencing a financial crisis occasioned by the Covid 19 pandemic and that it was not in a position to implement the return to work formula fully.
The university said implementing the formulae would force the institution to shut down.
They sought to have the applications struck out for lack of merit requesting to be allowed to pay the full salaries when the institution’s financial status improved.
The judge, however, in his ruling said it was illegal for the university to withhold or defer its workers’ payment adding that it is not supported in law.
He nevertheless said that the law gives a solution by allowing an employer to reduce the workforce through redundancy.
“The law allows an employer to let go of some of the employees when he feels unable to sustain the workforce. However, deferral is not an option as it is unconstitutional and unlawful,” ruled the judge.
The nine administrators appeared in court after they were summoned on November 17.