Trade Unions

If you belong to a trade union or want to join a trade union we have Trade Union FAQs in Kenya - union membership, functions of the trade union, join a union, rights of trade union

What is a trade union?

The Labour Relations Act defines a trade union as “an association of employees whose principal purpose is to regulate relations between employees and employers, including any employers’ organisation”.

What is the role of a trade union?

A trade union is an association of employees, thus a trade union represents the employees' interests to the employers. Basically, a trade union fights for better working conditions and remuneration for its members. Trade unions also advocate sound relations between employers and employees through the promotion and protection of freedom of association, collective bargaining agreements and dispute resolution. More specifically, trade unions negotiate for wages, work rules, complaint procedures, rules governing hiring, firing and promotion of workers, benefits, workplace safety and policies. The agreements negotiated by the union leaders are binding on the rank and file members and the employer and in some cases on other non-member workers.

The trade union, through its leadership, bargains with the employer on behalf of union members and negotiates collective bargaining with employers. Also trade union also represent workers at disciplinary and grievance hearings. Often, the union representative will be a workplace representative who is also a co-worker.

How can I join a trade union?

Section 32 of the Labour Relations Act, 2007, provides that only persons above the age of 18 can join a trade union. However, it allows for a person aged 16 to be a member under special circumstances.

Advantages/ disadvantages of joining a trade union

Advantages:

Increased wages for its members: Trade unions negotiate wage and salary matters with employers. Industries with trade unions tend to have higher wages than non-unionised industries.

Protection for Workers: Trade unions can also protect workers from exploitation, and push companies to adhere to labour laws such as upholding health and safety legislation, work injury compensation, unfair dismissal, minimum wage, and other employment benefits.

Representation for Workers: Trade unions can provide their members with legal assistance during disciplinary matters or legal suits. They give representation to workers facing legal action.

Productivity deals: Trade unions can help to negotiate productivity deals. This means they help the firm to increase output, which enables the firm to be able to afford higher wages. Trade unions can be important for implementing new working practices which improve productivity.

Important for the Service Sector: Modern economies have seen a rise in service sector employment. However, service sector jobs tend to be part-time and temporary - thus unions are needed to protect workers in these kinds of jobs.

Disadvantages:

Creates unemployment: Trade unions can cause wages to rise through the threat of strikes etc. However, when the wage is above the equilibrium it will cause a fall in employment. The situation can become worse if labour markets are competitive; escalating wages can cause high levels of unemployment.

Effect on non-members: Trade unions only consider the needs of its members - they often ignore the plight of those excluded from the labour markets, eg the unemployed. However, when unions fight for a new deal with an employer and win, the benefits are given to everyone regardless of whether they are a member of the union or not. Non-members benefit without any costs.

Lost Productivity: If unions go on strike and work unproductively (work to rule) it can lead to lost sales and output. Therefore their company may go out of business and be unable to employ workers at all.

Wage Inflation: If unions become too powerful they can bargain for higher wages, above the rate of inflation. If this occurs it may contribute to general inflation. For instance, powerful trade unions were a significant cause of the UK's inflation rate of 27% in 1979.

How is a trade union registered?

The process of registering a trade union takes six months and is provided for in sections 12, 13 and 14 of the Labour Relations Act, 2007, Laws of Kenya.

Registration of a trade union begins when any two persons apply for a certificate to promote the establishment of a trade union wherein the name of the proposed trade union and any prescribed information are specified. A certificate shall specify that the promoter may undertake lawful activities towards establishment of a trade union. Application for registration of a trade union shall be made to the registrar of trade unions within six months of the date of the certificate issue. A trade union certificate of registration may be withdrawn if the registrar has a reason to believe that the certificate was obtained by fraud, misrepresentation, or mistake or that any person has undertaken unlawful activities in contravention of the Labour Relations Act, 2007.

After obtaining a certificate from the registrar of trade unions, the trade union may apply for registration within six months if:

  • They have complied with the Labour Relations Act, 2007.
  • They have adopted a constitution that complies with the requirements of the Labour Relation Act, 2007 and requirements set out in the first schedule.
  • The trade union has an office and postal addresses within Kenya.
  • No other trade union is already registered that is sufficiently representative of the whole or substantial proportion of the interests in respect of which the applicants seek registration.
  • Only members in the sector specified in the union constitution qualify for membership of the trade union.
  • The name of the trade union is not the same as that of an existing trade union.
  • The decision to register the trade union was made at a meeting attended by at least fifty members of that trade union.
  • The trade union is independent of direct or indirect control of any employer or employers association.
  • The trade union’s sole purpose is to pursue the activities of a trade union.

How can I become a member of a trade union?

Section 32 of Labour Relations Act, 2007, allows for an employee who is above 16 years to enjoy the rights of membership of a trade union.

A voting member of a trade union must be one employed in the sector for which the trade union is registered and his/her subscriptions must not be more than 13 weeks in arrears.

Under what circumstances should my employer pay agency fees to a trade union?

Section 49 of The Labour Relations Act, 2007 provides for agency fees payment to a trade union by your employer after effecting deductions from your salary. The process of agency fee deductions begins when your employer is approached by the trade union to submit names of unionisable employees in order to identify the employees who have been employed under terms and conditions of a prevailing collective bargaining agreement. Agency fees are paid to a trade union that has a registered recognition agreement with the employer in the Industrial Court and who has requested the Minister for Labour requiring the employer to deduct agency fees from the wages of unionisable employees who are not members of the trade union but are employed under terms and conditions of the collective bargaining agreement.

The rate of agency fees must not be higher than the normal union subscription fees deducted from union members through a check off system.

Read more

Find out about Minimum Wages in Kenya. And take the Salary Survey.

What is the role of a trade union?

A trade union is an association of employees, thus a trade union represents the employees' interests to the employers. Basically, a trade union fights for better working conditions and remuneration for its members. Trade unions also advocate sound relations between employers and employees through the promotion and protection of freedom of association, collective bargaining agreements and dispute resolution. More specifically, trade unions negotiate for wages, work rules, complaint procedures, rules governing hiring, firing and promotion of workers, benefits, workplace safety and policies. The agreements negotiated by the union leaders are binding on the rank and file members and the employer and in some cases on other non-member workers.

The trade union, through its leadership, bargains with the employer on behalf of union members and negotiates collective bargaining with employers. Also trade union also represent workers at disciplinary and grievance hearings. Often, the union representative will be a workplace representative who is also a co-worker.

How can I join a trade union?

Section 32 of the Labour Relations Act, 2007, provides that only persons above the age of 18 can join a trade union. However, it allows for a person aged 16 to be a member under special circumstances.

Advantages/ disadvantages of joining a trade union

Advantages:

Increased wages for its members: Trade unions negotiate wage and salary matters with employers. Industries with trade unions tend to have higher wages than non-unionised industries.

Protection for Workers: Trade unions can also protect workers from exploitation, and push companies to adhere to labour laws such as upholding health and safety legislation, work injury compensation, unfair dismissal, minimum wage, and other employment benefits.

Representation for Workers: Trade unions can provide their members with legal assistance during disciplinary matters or legal suits. They give representation to workers facing legal action.

Productivity deals: Trade unions can help to negotiate productivity deals. This means they help the firm to increase output, which enables the firm to be able to afford higher wages. Trade unions can be important for implementing new working practices which improve productivity.

Important for the Service Sector: Modern economies have seen a rise in service sector employment. However, service sector jobs tend to be part-time and temporary - thus unions are needed to protect workers in these kinds of jobs.

Disadvantages:

Creates unemployment: Trade unions can cause wages to rise through the threat of strikes etc. However, when the wage is above the equilibrium it will cause a fall in employment. The situation can become worse if labour markets are competitive; escalating wages can cause high levels of unemployment.

Effect on non-members: Trade unions only consider the needs of its members - they often ignore the plight of those excluded from the labour markets, eg the unemployed. However, when unions fight for a new deal with an employer and win, the benefits are given to everyone regardless of whether they are a member of the union or not. Non-members benefit without any costs.

Lost Productivity: If unions go on strike and work unproductively (work to rule) it can lead to lost sales and output. Therefore their company may go out of business and be unable to employ workers at all.

Wage Inflation: If unions become too powerful they can bargain for higher wages, above the rate of inflation. If this occurs it may contribute to general inflation. For instance, powerful trade unions were a significant cause of the UK's inflation rate of 27% in 1979.

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