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Varsities Lay Off 700 Workers

By Watoro Kamau, The Nation (Nairobi), 29 March 2001

Two universities have laid off more than 700 employees.

Egerton dismissed 500 junior staff in its first phase of a retrenchment programme, while Maseno laid off 248.

The Egerton retrenchees are unionised workers in grades I-IV, such as cooks, copy typists, messengers, clerks, cleaners and groundsmen.

The authorities have been distributing retrenchment letters since Monday.

When the Nation visited the institution yesterday, work in some departments had almost ground to a halt as virtually all staff were shown the door.

Most of the workers affected yesterday moved from one office to the other in the clearing process.

The letters were signed by the deputy vice-chancellor, Prof Richard Mwangi (Research and Extension), who is currently in charge of Administration and Finance.

The retrenched workers were supposed to have cleared with their departments by yesterday. Their terminal benefits will be due for collection by April 5.

Those occupying university houses must move out by April 30.

A few weeks ago, Vice-Chancellor Ezra Maritim said the university had involved the workers' union in the retrenchment planning.

He said the dismissals were part of the ongoing Public Sector Reform Programme aimed at enabling public universities to direct resources to their core functions.

At Maseno, the retrenchment marks the first phase of a larger programme.

The retrenchees, mainly from job groups I and II, were taken by surprise when they reported to work only to find termination letters.

Activities remained low-key at the institution as the retrenched workers tried to come to terms with the new development.

The letters, copied to all departments, were signed by the deputy vice-chancellor, (Administration and Finance), Prof D.D.K. Serem. The retrenchees should hand over by April 1 and collect their benefits by April 5. They should vacate the institution's houses by the end of April.

The entire Security Department has been dissolved and the university has hired guards from a private company.

Other sections affected were the Accommodation and Catering Services as well as the Transport Department.

The second phase of the retrenchment kicks off next week and will target the teaching staff.

At Egerton, Prof Maritim said the administration had held meetings with the workers to prepare them psychologically.

"We also wanted to assure the union that we had followed a fair and transparent method of identifying those to be laid off," the V-C said.

The first phase of retrenchment would involve 503 workers in the lower cadre, while the second would target 168 workers in the middle-level cadre. The university has close to 1,750 workers in grades I-IV and A-F.

By the end of the programme, the university will have retrenched 671 workers in both cadres.

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