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Pick Committed Unionists

The Nation (Nairobi), 10 July 2001

Elections for posts in unions affiliated to the Central Organisation of Trade Unions are at an advanced stage.

The Cotu elections will be held in September, and so it is timely to question the ability of people habitually elected to these offices to represent the interests of their members.

As with their counterparts in politics, union poll aspirants are now very active. Their sole objective is to be elected. Thereafter, they are likely to lie low for the next five years, waiting for the next round of elections. As a result, many of the 32 unions will never be heard of again until 2006.

The reasons for this are varied, but the most obvious is the calibre of people workers elect. A sizeable number are not only semi-literate, but also ignorant of basic labour laws.

Others will be "tourists" - people who have failed elsewhere and have moved on to the labour movement to try their luck.

Yet others will venture into this sector as a ladder to greater things, especially to Parliament.

Examples abound - Tom Mboya, Clement Lubembe, Juma Boy, Sammy Muhanji, Wilson Mukuna, Wasike Ndombi (who are all now deceased), Kimani wa Nyoike, and more recently, Joseph Mugalla. All gained entry into Parliament via the labour movement.

But whatever the case, the time is up for speculators whose inept leadership has reduced their once vibrant unions into spineless outfits at a time when they should be fighting retrenchment and other misfortunes which have befallen their members.

For its part, the Government should do the wise thing and register a union to represent civil servants, thousands of whom have been laid off irregularly.

It should also scrap the anachronistic wage guidelines. Restricting employers and workers from negotiating their terms and conditions of employment is counter-productive as it distorts the objectives of liberalisation.

Copyright 2001 The Nation. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).