More than 500 nutritionists and dieticians trained under a government-sponsored internship programme have sued the Public Service Commission (PSC) and Ministry of Health (MoH) over unpaid stipends.
They claim in their case at the Industrial Court in Mombasa that though they successfully completed their training, they are yet to be paid.
“The claim is for payment in arrears of the internship stipend for the claimants, which we are entitled to under the government internship policy for 2017,” said Michael Ouma, who filed the claim on behalf of 506 others.
They were deployed at health facilities and want PSC and MoH compelled to pay them for their work.
Mr Ouma argues that under employment laws, they are entitled to payment for the period they served.
They have told the court that the Employment Act defines an employee to include an apprentice or indentured learner.
An indentured servant is a worker contracted to work without wages for a fixed period in exchange for some benefit, such as learning a trade.
On the other hand, an apprentice is defined as a person bound by an indenture to work for an employer for a specified period to learn a craft, trade or profession and a learner in any field of employment or business.
The petitioners also argue that Section 2 of the Employment Act defines a contract of service to include a contract of apprenticeship and indentured learnership.
The Kenya Nutritionists and Dieticians Institute (KNDI), which has also been sued in the case, asked the court to dismiss it on the grounds that the Industrial Court lacked jurisdiction over the case.
Through Prof Kiama Wangai & Company Advocates, KNDI said the case should be struck out for the reasons that no employer-employee relationship exists between itself and Mr Ouma and the parties he purports to represent.
KNDI says Mr Ouma lacked the capacity to bring this claim on his own behalf and the people he purports to represent.
Justice Byram Ongaya, who is handling the dispute, has declined to strike out the claim, after finding that the petitioners’ level of engagement under the programme amounted to employment.
“The court finds that the claimants, as interns, as pleaded amounted to employees and, again as pleaded, the relationship amounted to employment, within the meanings assigned under the Employment Act, 2007 and as submitted for the applicants,” he said
The judge also observed that the fact of employment, when disputed, would amount to a matter requiring a hearing and evidence to resolve.
The MoH has been sued as the agency responsible for policy on nutrition and preventive health programmes, and KNDI for its role in ensuring practical training of nutritionists and dieticians and placing interns in various health facilities to acquire practical trainings