By Vitalis Kimutai and Geoffrey Mosoku
Nairobi, Kenya: Millions of students will wake up this morning to the full impact of the crossfi re between teachers and the Government that has shut public schools indefinitely.
Officials of the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) boycotted last-minute pay talks with the Government Monday and rallied more than 200,000 members to start their nationwide strike today.
Knut vowed that the strike to press for higher salaries would go on even as State offi cials scrambled to avert the imminent turmoil in the public education sector. Daylong meetings hosted by the parliamentary Education committee at Parliament Buildings proved fruitless.
At one point on Monday, Education Secretary Jacob Kaimenyi extended the offer of Sh11 billion to Knut while insisting that the Sh47 billion demanded was unrealistic under the prevailing economic situations.
The nationwide strike will paralyse learning in public primary schools, deepening the crisis in the education sector that began to unravel last week when secondary school teachers downed their tools.
At the MPs meeting, Kaimenyi, representatives of the Teachers Service Commission (TSC), Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) and Attorney General met officials of the Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet).
Knut officials boycotted the meeting. But there was do deal yet with Kuppet as its officials asked their members to stay away from work.
Earlier Monday morning, the crisis snowballed when Knut’s National Executive Council voted to sanction the strike to press for allowances totalling Sh47 billion negotiated under a contentious deal in 1997.
Knut national chairman Wilson Sossion and secretary general Xavier Nyamu said the union would not negotiate with the government and teachers will be on strike until all their demands are met.
“The strike will start at midnight of Monday and teachers will down their tools until such a time that the Knut National Executive Council has given other directives. The government can go ahead and negotiate with itself, as for us we want to see money in the bank,”Sossion declared Monday during a press conference at the union headquarters in Nairobi.
Obsolete and impossible
Sossion insisted the government should shelve the laptop programme for class one pupils and divert the Sh54 billion to meet teachers’ demands for higher house, commuter, medical and responsibility allowances.At Parliament Buildings, officials of TSC and SRC, who had earlier met the MPs, urged a renegotiation of the contentious 1997 deal.
They told the House Education, Science and Technology committee that the gazette notice No 16 of 1997 was obsolete and impossible to implement.
SRC commissioner Isaiah Kubai suggested the State could move to the High Court to have the unions compelled to renegotiate.
“Madam Chair, even if the teachers go on strike, the same court has powers to order parties in a dispute to return to the negotiating table,” Kubai told the committee chaired by Murang’a County Women Representative Sabina Chege.
At one point, Kaimenyi left the room to make a phone call in which he was overheard briefing the person on the other end that the National Treasury were ready to offer teachers no more than Sh11 billion.
He explained the teachers were demanding Sh47 billion for their allowances, but Treasury could not meet that demand so as not to burden the Exchequer.
From the conversation it was evident he was talking to a higher authority, possibly the President or his Deputy as he kept responding, “yes your excellency.”
The Cabinet Secretary then quickly returned to the room, where he informed the MPs of the government’s offer. He then requested that the meeting be adjourned until the afternoon, so that Knut and Kuppet could be involved in the deliberations.
Those present at the time at Continental House were SRC chairperson Sarah Serem, TSC’s chief executive officer Gabriel Lengoiboni and deputy Solicitor General Muthoni Kimani.
At Knut headquarters, Sossion pressed for a one-off payout.
“It is only Sh3.8 billion that is going to increase per month translating to Sh47 billion a year which is cheaper than Sh53.6 billion the government has allocated for the laptops projects,” Sossion said.
He added: “If the government in future wants to implement the laptop project then it should start with form four leavers and college students who will utilise it for research.” Sossion said teachers being members of a union are by law allowed to picket as long as they follow the laid down procedures.
He said that Parents Teachers Associations (PTAs) and Boards of Governors should from today take over the day-to-day running of the learning institutions.
“The government has the money to pay teachers and we are saying that there is no need to negotiate with someone who has your debt and is refusing to pay even though his wallet is lined with money,” Nyamu said during a press conference at the union headquarters.
He said Knut wanted teachers paid 50 per cent of their basic pay in house allowances, medical allowances (20 per cent) and harmonisation of the commuter allowances with those of the civil servants.
Nyamu said that the government is already paying 30 per cent of basic pay as hardship allowances and 20 per cent for those in special schools as per the Legal Notice 534 of 1997.
The union also dismissed a statement from SRC that Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs) would have to be re-negotiated after June 30. Kuppet has proposed that the commuter, house, leave, and responsibility allowances for the teachers be harmonized with those of the civil servants as per the agreements which had been signed with the Treasury, Ministry of Education and the TSC.
Mr Omboko Milemba, Kuppet national chairman and Mr Akello Misori, the secretary general said the union would only consider calling off the strike if the government implements the demands in full. “Even as we engage with the government, our members are out in the streets having left their workstations a week ago,” Misori said.
Milemba said that the union could not turn down the government’s invitation for talks because through that forum the unionists would be able present their case.
“As we speak, we are holding a meeting with Cabinet Secretary for education Professor Jacob Kaimenyi, Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) Commissioners led by chairperson Sarah Serem, Teachers Service Commission Chief Executive Gabriel Lengoiboni and members of the Parliamentary Committee on Education because we want to ensure that all relevant instruments of government get the true picture of the situation on the ground,” Milemba said.