Educational institutions are on the government radar in a move aimed at ensuring they honour their social security obligations to workers. In an audit to be carried out by the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) in partnership with workers’ unions, the institutions targeted include the 31 public universities, colleges, secondary and primary schools.
Public institutions have been blamed for outsourcing most services and in the process flouting employment and labour laws practices. NSSF acting registration and collections manager Evans Ombui said the institutions have been flagged as “a high risk” due to their tendency to have a big number of their workers on casual basis and withholding their contributions.
Some of the tactics involved by universities to avoid payment of the mandatory contributions include employment through part-time, casualisation, outsourcing and seasonal employment.
“The remittances in the sector have been shrinking by day as most institutions shift to engaging external companies involved in cleaning, catering, hospitality and security services,” Mr Ombui told the Sunday Nation.
“It is even worse in most universities which outsource workers in all departments and leave them at the mercy of private sector investors who are interested in making huge profit,” he added.
The Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotels, Educational Institutions, Hospitals and Allied Workers (Kudheiha) legal adviser Jackline Wamai stated that most of the workers targeted by universities are those in Grade I to IV.
But Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (Mmust) director of corporate communications and marketing, Dr Dennis Ochieno, pointed out that most of the institutions have been affected by the quest by some workers to acquire higher education.
“This threatens the wage bill as the staff demand to be re-designated to higher grades. Universities have to look for ways to keep afloat amid serious budget deficits they face,” he said.
Dr Ochieno also noted that the few number of people employed by universities cannot be relied on to provide all the services required. “We, therefore, have to use other service providers who offer professional services like security and cleaning among others,” he said. He, however, attributed ignorance on the part of workers for failing to highlight cases of dishonest employers who take advantage of their situation.
University of Nairobi director of corporate affairs John Orindi defended the model by the institutions saying it is based on “resource rationalisation”. Ms Wamai pointed out that it is illegal for the public institutions to pass the buck to private entities, which subject the employees to inhuman and unfair labour practices that fail to recognise the rights of the workers.
The Kudheiha lawyer raised concern that most of the outsourced companies involved are not registered and lack certificates of compliance.
“This has made it even more difficult for the employees to join unions and have their welfare championed for,” she said during a sensitisation workshop at Kisumu’s Tom Mboya Labour College.
As a public institution, she noted that it is illegal for the universities to use the taxpayers’ money to make profit at the expense of workers who provide essential services.
But the NSSF managers said they will closely work with the shop stewards of the Kudheiha, which has representatives across the country, to establish the exact number of people affected.
According to the law, Mr Ombui pointed out that both the substantive employer and the agent employer are legally liable to cater for the basic welfare of their workers by providing requirements like NSSF and National Hospital Insurance Fund.
“The institutions are mandated by law to conduct due diligence on the people they recruit as agents,” he said, adding that failure to pay pension is against Article 43 (e) of the constitution.
Dr Christopher Khisa, the public relations and communications manager at NSSF, said they will utilise their compliance officers to adhere to the law before enforcing strict penalties and/or prosecution.
Under the new NSSF Act, every employer who engages one or more employees is required to promptly register with NSSF as a contributing employer.
Failure to promptly deduct and remit contributions in full by day 15 of the following month and late payments of mandatory contributions shall attract a penalty at the rate of 5 percent of the total contributions for each month or part of the month that is remitted late.
Employers are expected to make a mandatory contribution of a flat rate of Sh200 and a similar amount by employee. “It is unfortunate for the workers to live in deprived conditions at their sunset years as a result of some unscrupulous people who want to exploit them,” he said.