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Trade Unions in Kenya

Trade Unions in Kenya Description

Trade Unions in Kenya: The enactment of a Trade Unions Ordinance in 1937 by the colonial government and its amendment in 1940, resulted in a dash for the registration of workers’ Trade Unions in Kenya. From the initial three Trade Unions in Kenya in 1937 immediately after the enactment of the ordinance, the number doubled to six in 1940. By 1963 as the country achieved independence, the number of trade unions had multiplied to 52, representing about 155,000 workers.

As the number of Trade Unions in Kenya increased, there were attempts to form an umbrella body. In 1949, Markhan Singh and Fred Kubai created the East African Trade Union Congress (EATUC). However, the colonial government wouldn’t have it registered, arguing that it wasn‘t a trade union per se.

Then followed the formation of the Kenya Federation of Registered Trade Unions (KFRTU) in 1952.

Aggrey Minya became its first secretary-general, before Tom Mboya took over the mantle the following year. In 1955, KFRTU changed its name to Kenya Federation of Labour (KFL). A conflict would later emerge at the helm of KFL, leading to the formation in 1965, of a splinter umbrella union, known as the Kenya African Workers Congress (KAWC), led by Dennis Akumu and Mak’Anyengo.

The disagreement between the two groups intensified. It was not so much about ideological differences, but more of personality clashes, according to a report of the Presidential Ministerial Committee on Trade Unionism in Kenya, appointed by the first President on June 23, 1965, to inquire into the problems afflicting Workers unions in the country.

By the time the president was receiving the report in August the same year, the conflict between the two umbrella unions had peaked in a scuffle in Mombasa on August 30, 1965, and had resulted in the death of three trade unionists and scores of injuries.

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It did not take much convincing, therefore, for the President to accent to the recommendations by the committee that KFL and KAWC be deregistered immediately and a new Workers umbrella organisation, to be called the Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Kenya), be formed.

In his acceptance of the report, President Kenyatta stated: “I will preface my remarks by saying how shocked and grieved I was to hear of the death of three trade unionists in a scuffle in Mombasa. Without prejudicing whatever judicial proceedings may follow, I would say that I trust that the implementation of the proposals of the Presidential Ministerial Committee on Trade Unionism in Kenya will put an end to the situation ir1 which such terrible things may occur.”

The President then directed through the statement dated September 1, 1965: “In order to make a clean and a fresh start, the existing trade union centres are being deregistered with immediate effect.

The Attorney-General will, in consultation with the Ministry of Labour, arrange the drawing up of the constitution of the Central Organisation of Trade Unions, which will replace these two rival bodies. ”

With that stroke of the President’s pen following recommendations of a committee chaired by Dr Julius Kiano and comprising Tom Mboya, Achieng Oneko, Charles Njonjo, Lawrence Sagini, Joseph Murumbi, among others, the formation of Cotu was sealed.

It has been 48 years since, and despite some hiccups, the big one being its infiltration by and therefore affiliation to the Kanu government at the peak of President Moi’s regime, Cotu continues to execute its mandate of strengthening affiliate unions; lobbying for worker friendly labour policies, promoting worker education and articulating their views at both national and international forums.

Currently Cotu, through the affiliate unions, represents about 1.5 million workers in the country.

However, the organisation recently faced a potential challenge from attempts to revive its precursors; the Kenya Federation of Labour and the Kenya African Workers Congress.

Those fronting their revival claimed that they had been illegally deregistered by the Government in 1965, after which Cotu was created to take their place and assets.

When making their application for reinstatement in May 2012, the two Trade Unions in Kenya wanted Cotu to be stopped from carrying out its activities until the matter was heard. They jointly claimed that the properties occupied and used by Cotu, including its Solidarity House headquarters in Nairobi and the Kisumu and Mombasa Tom Mboya Labour colleges, belonged to them.

The joint application was filed on May 3, 2012.

The Industrial Court dismissed the applications on October 15, 2012 through a ruling delivered by Judge Nzioki wa Makau. The two issued a notice of appeal on October 29, 2012, to challenge the decision at the Court of Appeal.

Trade Unions in Kenya

Trade Unions in Kenya

Trade Unions in Kenya – Trade unionism and the Kenya Constitution

The Constitution of Kenya 2010, which provides for industrial action under Article 41 in the Bill of Rights, has led to a fresh vibrancy in trade unionism. Some 14 trade unions have been registered since the promulgation of the Constitution on August 27, 2010, bringing the total number to 79.

The sudden push for new trade unions was just the beginning of an intensified boldness in industrial relations in the country. In particular, 2012 registered an unprecedented series of strikes and other forms of industrial action by discontented employees in different sectors.

A number of them are notable. In March 2012, nurses in public hospitals went on strike to push the Government to commit to a pay deal agreed on earlier. The strike lasted two weeks before the outstanding issues were resolved.

The nurses were at it again in December 2012 to demand for the registration of a new trade union they had created the year before, namely the Kenya National Union of Nurses (KNUN). Officials of the new union had applied for its registration in July 2012. The Registrar of Trade Unions had declined, arguing that there were trade unions that could sufficiently cater for the interests of the nurses.

Angry nurses put down their tools in protest on December 3, 2012. The union’s officials later appealed at the Industrial Court, upon which Principal Judge Mathews Nduma later ruled in a judgment dated April 16, 2013, that KNUN be registered on the basis of sections 12 and 18 of the labour Relations Act 2007, and Article 41(2c) of the Constitution.

Just before the nurses went on strike, public school teachers represented by the Kenya National Union of Teacher (Knut) and the Kenya Union of Post-Primary education Teachers (Kuppet) had stopped working to demand a 300 per cent pay rise in fulfilment of an agreement that had been signed With the Government in 1997. That had been on September 3, 2012. The strike ended three Weeks later on September 24 after talks yielded an agreement and the Government released a lump—sum payment.

In the meantime, starting September 6, 2012, public university Lecturers represented by the University Academic Staff Union, made good their threat to strike to demand a 200 per cent pay increase, in addition to pushing the Government to commit to negotiations for a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) for 2012 to 2014.

In August 2012, the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union called its members to strike in support of trainee doctors, who had stopped working to demand a monthly stipend of Kshs92, 000 as agreed With the Government in December 2011. The union was also to force the Government to fulfil its part of a pay bargain negotiated in December 2011.

On September 4, 2012, a decision by Kenya Airways to go ahead with the laying off 447 workers was met with spirited resistance by the Aviation and Allied Workers Union (AAWU). In addition to calling a strike, the union successfully petitioned the Industrial Court to overturn the redundancy of the affected employees. In a judgment dated December 3, 2012, Judge James Rika ordered the airline’s management to reinstate the affected workers to the positions they held at the time the redundancy letters were issued to them.

Trade Unions in Kenya

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

Trade Unions in Kenya – Registeration

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, and 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
  • The trade union has 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.

The Central Organization of Trade Unions, COTU (K) is the sole national trade union centre in Kenya. COTU (K) was founded in 1965 upon dissolution of the Kenya Federation of Labour and the African Workers’ Congress. COTU (K) is registered and operates within the provisions of the Trade Union Act (Chapter 233) of the Laws of Kenya.

These are Trade Unions in Kenya affiliated to COTU:

Trade Unions in Kenya: Amalgamated Union of Kenya Metal Workers

Avon House, Mfangano Street

P.O. Box 73651


Off: 2211060

Fax No: 311589

Trade Unions in Kenya: Kenya Petroleum Oil Workers Union

KCB Building, 4th Floor Jogoo Road

P.O. Box 10376 – 00400


Off. 555549

Trade Unions in Kenya: Bakery, Confectionery Manufacturing & Allied Workers Union (K)

Chai House 8th Floor Koinange Street

P.O. Box 57751


D/L 248508 / 246776

G/L 310630 / 330275

Fax: 2222735

Trade Unions in Kenya: Dock Workers Union

Dockers House, Kenyatta Avenue

P.O. Box 98207,


Tel/Fax: 041-2491974

Trade Unions in Kenya: Kenya Building, construction, Timber, Furniture & Allied Trades Employees Union

Munshiram Building

P.O. Box 49628


Off: 223434

Fax: 336414

Trade Unions in Kenya: Kenya Chemical & Allied Workers Union

Hermes House, Tom Mboya Street

P.O. Box 73820


Off: 249101

D/L: 212313

Trade Unions in Kenya: Kenya Engineering Workers Union

Simla House, Tom Mboya Street

P.O. Box 73987


Off: 311168 / 244040

Trade Unions in Kenya: Kenya Game Hunting & Safari Workers Union

Comfood Building, Kilome Road

P.O. Box 47509


Trade Unions in Kenya: Kenya Union of Printing, Publishing, Paper Manufacturing & Allied Workers


P.O. Box 72358


Off: 2216012 / 2215981

Trade Unions in Kenya: Kenya Plantation & Agricultural Workers Union

Co-operative House, Kenyatta Street

P.O. Box 1161


Telefax:    051-2212310

Trade Unions in Kenya: Kenya Scientific, Research, International, Technical & Allied Institutions

Ngumba House, Tom Mboya Street

P.O. Box 55094


Trade Unions in Kenya: Banking Insurance & Finance Union (K)

Sonalux House, Moi Avenue

P.O. Box 42748


Off: 245364 / 332854

Fax: 245366

Trade Unions in Kenya: Communications Workers Union (K)

Hermes House, Tom Mboya Street

P.O. Box 48155



Fax: 2219347

Trade Unions in Kenya: Railway Workers Union (K)

RAWU House, Mfangano Street

P.O. Box 72029


Off: 340302

Trade Unions in Kenya: Trade Unions of Tailors & Textiles Workers

Mtihani House,


Trade Unions in Kenya: Trade Unions of Transport & Allied Workers

NACICO Plaza, 3rd Floor

P.O. Box 45171 – 00100


Off: 652383

Trade Unions in Kenya: Kenya Union of Entertainment & Music Industry Employees

Coffee Plaza, 2nd Floor

P.O. Box 8305 – 00200


Off: 243249

Trade Unions in Kenya: Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotels, Educational Institutions, Hospitals & Allied Workers

P.O. Box 41763


Off: 6750576

Fax: 317785

Trade Unions in Kenya: Kenya Union of Sugar Plantation Workers

P.O. Box 19019


Telefax: 057-2021595

Trade Unions in Kenya: Kenya Local Government Workers Union

Dundee House, Country Road

P.O. Box 55827,


Off: 217213 / 250111

Fax: 342143

Trade Unions in Kenya: Kenya Shipping, Clearing & Warehouses Workers Union

Yusuf Ali Building, 4th Floor

P.O. Box 84067


Off: 041-2229465

Fax: 041-2227438

Trade Unions in Kenya: Seaferers Workers Union

Express House, Moi Avenue

P.O. Box 81655


Trade Unions in Kenya: Kenya Quarry & Mine Workers Union

Coffee Plaza

Exchange Line, Off Hailesellasie

P.O. Box 48125


Off: 229774

Trade Unions in Kenya: Kenya Electrical Trades Allied Workers Union

Aqua Plaza, Murang’a Road

P.O. Box 47460


Dir: 3754366

G/L: 3752087

Fax: 3754366

Trade Unions in Kenya: Kenya Shoe & Leather Workers Union


P.O. Box 49629


Off: 252788

Trade Unions in Kenya: Kenya Jockey, Betting Workers Union

Kirim & Sons Building, 3rd Floor

P.O. Box 55094


Trade Unions in Kenya: Union of National, Research Institutes Staff of Kenya (UNRISK)

Old Hermes House, 2nd Floor

P.O. Box 27723 – 00506


Trade Unions in Kenya: Kenya National Private Security Workers Union

P.O. Box 102549 – 00101


Off: 2211088 /2210137

Fax: 315631

Trade Unions in Kenya: University Academic Staff Union (UASU)

Uniafric House, Loita Street

P.O. Box 30198 – 00100


Okubasu Shimenga (Chairman UASU)

Trade Unions in Kenya: Kenya Hotels & Allied Workers Union

Church House, 7th Floor, Moi Avenue

P.O. Box 20398 – 00200


Trade Unions in Kenya: Kenya Union of Commercial, Food & Allied Workers,

P.O. Box 46818,



Fax 313118

Trade Unions in Kenya: Kenya Aviation and Allied Workers Union

P.O. Box 19104 – 00501


Trade Unions: Kenya Union of Journalists

International Life House

1st Floor Room 19


Trade Unions in Kenya: Kenya Long Distance Truck Drivers and Allied Workers Union

ALIMET PLAZA – Mombasa Road

Behind St. James Hospital 3rd Floor

P.O. Box 21553




Trade Unions in Kenya – Non Affiliates

Trade Unions in Kenya: Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT)

KNUT Building, Mfangano Street

P.O. Box 30407


Off: 2220387 / 2220192

Trade Unions in Kenya: Union of Kenya Civil Servants

P.O. Box 480831

Ufundi Co-op Plaza


Off: 240423

Trade Unions in Kenya: Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (KUPPET)

Ufundi Co-op Plaza, 10th Floor

P.O. Box 30412 – 00100


Off: 244117

The National Secretary

Trade Unions in Kenya: National Nurses Association of Kenya

Kenyatta National Hospital Grounds

Beyond Ministry of Health Government Chemists

P.O Box 49422 – 00100


Trade Unions in Kenya: Kenya Airline Pilots Association

KALPA House, North Airport Rd, Embakasi

P.O. Box 57509


Off Airport Road, Embakasi

Off: 820354/821243

Fax: 820410

Trade Unions in Kenya – Video