PSI affiliates in Kenya held a National Strategic Organising Workshop in Nairobi, Kenya on 28-29 June 2022 under the project “Organising workers for trade union unity of action, density and quality public services in East Africa” running from 2018-2022, implemented by PSI in partnership with Kommunal and Union to Union.
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PSI affiliates that participated in the event included Kenya National Union of Nurses (KNUN), Union of Kenya Civil Servants (UKCS), Kenya County Government Workers Union (KCGWU), Union of National Research Institutes Staff of Kenya (UNRISK), Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KPMDU), Kenya Electrical Trades and Allied Workers' Union (KETAWU), Kenya Union of Commercial, Food and Allied Workers (KUCFAW) and Kenya Universities Staff Union (KUSU).
The main objectives of the meeting were to:
Make an analysis of the current membership density since the project inception in 2018
Strategic Organising strategies: Share practical experiences on organising strategies: success and failures/ best strategies
The unions made an analysis of their density rates and noted that while some unions had density rates above 50%, the majority still had union density rates below 50%. This was mainly attributed to the challenges posed by the freeze of employment in the public sector, the increase in contract work, sub-contracting and casualisation in almost all sectors represented by PSI affiliates, which does not provide job security and thus hesitancy from these categories of workers to join unions.
It was additionally observed that union busting was on the increase, with some employers tending to employ third parties to negotiate on their behalf and to discourage new employees from joining the union including threats to dismiss them if they do so. Employment trends characterised by tribalism, nepotism and sectarianism were all posing a great challenge as workers were being divided along these lines and believed that joining a union would be betraying those who gave them employment opportunities. Strike failure and poorly organised strikes that expose workers to victimisation by employers if the strike fails, including loss of employment, was also identified as a factor that discourages potential members to be part of the union. Among the affiliates themselves, it was reported that the challenges of demarcation disputes and boarders was still a challenge even though unions were trying to see how to overcome this. This affects recruitment especially in sectors where many unions have cross-cutting membership.
Another big elephant in the house that was the greatest set back to union effective representation through Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) was reported to be the Salary Review Commission (SRC). While the original mandate of the SRC was to advise the Government on salary reviews and recommendations based on the model of the UK Salary Review Commission, the SRC in Kenya had overstepped its boundary by now playing the role of vetting and rejecting the implementation of Collective Bargaining Agreements signed between the workers and the Government. This has greatly weakened the unions power to the point of members not seeing the relevance of Unions bargaining on their behalf if the determination of salary increment/review was now under the authority of SRC with many CBAs remain unimplemented due to being vetoed by SRC. Many union members were pulling out of unions as a result of their frustration with the implementation of CBAs that would enhance their welfare in the workplace.
Other discussions also focused on how unions can build the confidence of potential members to join the union, including addressing the challenge posed by SRC that will need lobbying for the reforms on its mandate. It was agreed and observed that improved visibility and communication among all the structures of the union and within the public domain was key towards attracting and recruiting members. Unions should endeavour to use the social media available to spread the gains made in improving the lives of workers at the workplace e.g. Twitter accounts, Facebook etc.
Members were also informed of the difference between mobilisation, which focuses only on workers willing to talk to the union officials, which would not lead to an increase in numbers needed to build union power. Organisers were encouraged to embrace organising techniques that would make them move potential members who are not interested in joining unions, as this is where gaining members for building the power needed lies. Key in the current dispensation was how to revitalise the unions including consideration for changes in the internal structure and decentralisation of organising, building coalitions with likeminded Civil Societies, engaging in influencing political polices and national debates like budget process and tax justice to be relevant to the things that affect the entire community, as workers are part of the general community first.
The organisers had the opportunity to meet with young workers who told them about young workers' apathy towards trade unionism, including the lack of knowledge and capacity building about what a trade union is and its mandate, the idea that trade unions are for the older generation, and the disconnect between the older generation and Generation Y in terms of expectations and approaches to organising.
The young workers were encouraged to plan their career plan in terms of trade union leadership and stand up despite challenges that may try to inhibit their effective participation. The General Secretary for KPMDU, comrade Davji B. Atella, was invited to share his experience of rising to the highest position in the medical union despite being the first attempt and a position at national level. He observed that social capital and passion for social justice was key to being an effective leader.
The meeting concluded with a draft general work plan for the revitalisation of each union. In terms of takeaways, the organisers recognised the need to continue to work in harmony, including in the areas of organising, to avoid the pitfalls of employers playing off one union against the other, to embrace integrated approaches to organising, to create union visibility and undertake clear strategies for effective revitalisation that will enhance union density within the current changing employment paradigm.
The National Strategic Organising Workshop will be held in Nairobi, Kenya on 28-29 June. On Day 1 the workshop will last from 8:30 am - 4:30 pm East Africa Time (EAT)/GMT+3. On day 2 the workshop will last from 8:30 am - 1:30 pm EAT/GMT+3. This project is being organised within the framework of the "Organising workers for trade union unity of action, density and quality public services" project implemented by PSI in partnership with Kommunal and Union to Union.