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Kenyan lecturers’ strike to paralyse universities

By | Updated Wed, November 9th 2011 at 00:00 GMT +3

By Augustine Oduor And Roselyne Obala

Up to 170,000 students in public universities will see their studies disrupted from Wednesday if a planned strike by lecturers kicks off.

The lecturers on Tuesday rejected a last-ditch attempt by the Government to stave off the strike sparked by a long-running pay dispute.

University Academic Staff Union officials after they addressed a press conference in Nairobi on Tuesday. Lecturers in public universities begin a strike today over Government failure to increase their pay. Photo: Jenipher Wachie/Standard

The strike by 7,000 lecturers is likely to affect 80,000 regular and 90,000 Module II – commonly referred to as ‘parallel’ – students according to Prof Wangila Barasa, the chairman of the Vice-Chancellors’ Committee.

It might also disrupt graduation calendar of the universities.

Desperate attempts by Higher Education Minister Margaret Kamar in Parliament, and at her office, to find a solution hit a brick wall as MPs added to her woes.

Prof Kamar told Parliament attempts to invite the University Academic Staff Union (Uasu) for talks in Kisumu failed, as the dons went ahead to launch to the strike in Nairobi on Tuesday.

"It is true and good for the House to know public universities lecturers are going on strike beginning tomorrow (Wednesday), but the unions have given dialogue a wide berth," Kamar told Parliament.

MPs confronted her over the lackluster way the Government has treated lecturers and criticised the ministry for failing to engage them in any meaningful dialogue.

Saboti MP Eugene Wamalwa challenged Kamar to ensure fruitful dialogue is reached as Kenya is at war with Al Shabaab and no distraction is desirable.

Ainamoi MP Benjamin Lagat asked the minister why the Government was only ready to talk after it was pushed to the wall by threats of a work stoppage.

And Gichugu MP and Narc-Kenya chairperson Martha Karua said the Government is doing little to avert a crisis as it ignores fruitful dialogue.

Kamar is expected to issue a comprehensive answer and a road map to solutions in Parliament on Wednesday morning.

The universities include Nairobi, Kenyatta, Moi, Egerton, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Maseno, Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, Pwani and constituent colleges and their satellite campuses.

Top Uasu officials termed as "ill advised" a last-minute meeting Kamar called on Wednesday.

"We refuse and decline the invitation because it is based on bad faith. The minister is treating us to a cutlery of contradictions, which we find unbearable," said Uasu secretary general Muga K’Olale.

He said for about three years now, the Government failed to implement in total the 2008-2009 Collective Bargain Agreement (CBA) agreed between unions and the Inter-Public Universities Council Consultative Forum (IPUCCF).

At a charged press briefing in a Nairobi hotel, Uasu said the strike in on starting Wednesday morning.

Industrial grievances

"We call upon all university staff to totally withdraw their labour with immediate effect until the Government addresses the industrial grievances," said K’Olale.

K’Olale said all the 18 public universities are in agreement to down their tools starting on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Higher Education Permanent Secretary Crispus Kiamba told The Standard Kamar had called the Uasu officials to a meeting in her office on Tuesday.

"We have always made efforts to get the lecturers to talk. Today [Tuesday] the minister called them to a meeting to get them on talking terms," he said.

But K’Olale said the union read mischief in the last-minute meeting called at Jogoo House.

"It is just yesterday that they generated a letter asking us to go to Kisumu to start negotiations. Then today they call us to another meeting in Nairobi. How can this be possible?" he asked.

Uasu claimed the minister had resorted to "unlawful antics" instead of engaging the unions in a meaningful discussion.

K’Olale said the strike had officially started, noting that they would only engage an impartial body.

"The salary restructuring and harmonisation can only be deliberated on and negotiated by the Ministry of State for Public Service and not by our colleagues as all councils depend on the Exchequer," he said.

The union accused the ministry of failing to put something on the table as a "counter proposal" that would merit a sensible meeting.

"We placed our proposals on the table. All we want is to restructure and harmonise basic salaries," he said.

He added: "The Government’s overt and covert acts of impunity violate the workers’ rights to fair remuneration and contradicts Article 41 of the Constitution," he said.

But as the Government and the union pull in different directions, The Standard on Wednesday received complaints from several university students over a looming delay of their graduation.

Early this month, Kiamba directed Inter-Public Universities Council Consultative Forum (IPUCCF) to resume stalled negotiations.

The union expressed disappointment at the manner their case has been handled.

"We engaged the then Minister for Higher Education, William Ruto, we talked to Hellen Sambili, and lately we have engaged Margaret Kamar. Nothing has come out yet," said Uasu national chairman Sam Kubasu.

Prof Barasa urged the three different unions representing different cadre of staff to give dialogue a chance.

"We appeal to the teams to send their representatives to start negotiations," he said.

No conditions

He said the union officials should not go back on their word of accepting negotiations.

"We should not give each other conditions. Let us have a peaceful environment to find a lasting solution," he added.

Wangila, who is also the secretary of IPUCCF, urged the teams to honour the scheduled dates to start negotiations.

"We do not want a situation where learning is disrupted," he noted.

Kubasu said they read mischief in the way the matter is being handled.

"It seems the Government is hiding something; they are running the show in a one sided way," he said.

Prof Kubasu said there is a procedure, and they were not consulted before they settled on the dates.

"We must work out a schedule agreed upon by both parties, and they should deal with the national office and not chapter officials," he stated.

He said engaging branch officials would not take them anywhere.

"We must decide on new dates, venue and time. They must also present a counter-proposal with the negotiated items," he added.

At Maseno University, union officials Martin Owidi and Odoyo Genga said there was no reason to hold back when the directive from the Head of Public Service was only to warn them against striking, instead of offering solutions.

"If Muthaura says the strike is illegal, we will keep to our resolve until the CBA is honoured," said Owidi.

— Additional reporting by Kepher Otieno


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