|Kuppet officials and secondary school teachers demonstrate over salary increment in Iten town, Elgeyo Marakwet County, Sunday. [Photo: Fred Kibor/Standard]|
By Vitalis Kimutai and Rawlings Otieno
Kenya: A nationwide teachers’ strike will be announced today, Knut national chairman Wilson Sossion declared on Sunday.
“We will announce the strike tomorrow (Monday) after a vote by the National Executive Council (NEC) which will be meeting at the union headquarters,” Sossion told The Standard in a phone interview on Sunday.
The action, expected to paralyse learning in all public schools from tomorrow, followed days of behind the-scenes attempts to head off a strike by the country’s 200,000-plus teachers.
Sossion said the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) would no longer engage the government on demands for higher allowances and hiring of 40,000 additional teachers.
Today the top decision making organ of the union meets to ratify a nationwide strike after officials defied negotiations with the State as directed by President Uhuru.
The strike by Knut’s members will add to the turmoil created by another strike by the Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet). The two strikes are expected to cripple learning in public primary schools, secondary and post-secondary institutions.
In an attempt to clamp down on the industrial action, the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) threatened to punish teachers who take part in the strikes for absconding duty.
TSC described the strike by Kuppet and any other union- apparently anticipating the one by Knut unlawful, citing ongoing negotiations.
But the unions responded they would not be cowed by threats of sackings saying the strikes were protected in law.
Knut wants the government to implement in full Legal Notice 534 of 1997 that details a raft of allowances totaling Sh47 billion.
“We will not be cowed and intimidated by threats from TSC as the strike is legal as all channels have been followed. Our members will continue with the strike until the harmonisation of commuter, house and responsibility allowances between teachers and civil servants is implemented,” said Akello Misori, Kuppet Secretary General.
On Friday President Uhuru directed government agencies and teachers’ unions to negotiate, the second such directive in a week after the initial deadline lapsed without any development.
Today the Ministry of Education convenes the meeting in Nairobi that would be attended by officials of TSC and Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC).
Sunday, Kuppet said it was ready for talks with the government but indicated its members would continue with the strike.
TSC Chief Executive Officer Gabriel Lengoiboni threatened to sack teachers who take part in the strike called by Kuppet.
Through a paid up advertisement in the daily press Sunday, TSC directed County Directors to take disciplinary action against striking teachers.
“Any teacher who absents himself or herself from work will be deemed to have contravened the code of regulations for teachers and disciplinary action will be taken against such person,” read part of the advert.
Lengoiboini added: “There is no dispute whatsoever with Kuppet or any other union since the process of negotiations as provided for in the law is ongoing. Any purported strike action is premature, uncalled for and a breach of the law.”
But Misori told a press conference at Holy Family Basilica after attending a Sunday church service Sunday the government must meet the demands by teachers.
“This is not about Kuppet alone but all education stakeholders who are keen on having the outstanding issues resolved once and for all so that learning can proceed smoothly in all public schools and colleges,” Misori said.
He was flanked by national chairman Omboko Milemba, organising secretary Paul Maingi, secretary in charge of secondary schools Edward Obwocha and women’s representative Catherine Wambilianga.
Said Obwocha: “It is unfortunate that the President has to nudge into action members of the two commissions and high ranking government officers who have been in deep slumber as teachers demonstrate in streets over a sensitive matter that should have been resolved long ago.”
Sossion added: “The government has its priorities upside down and the top officials do not seem to understand the real needs of the education sector. We will not enter into dialogue with the government on this matter.”
Knut is demanding for Sh47 billion for implementation the demands for salary increment and recruitment of teachers while Kuppet is asking for Sh45.8 billion from the government.
Atwoli said that teachers’ strike was legal and the government must not interfere with CBAs but instead respect the independence and autonomy of trade unions.
Mrs Sarah Serem, the chairperson of the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) Sunday told The Standard on telephone that it was important for all parties to enter into consultations over the dispute.
“SRC will do whatever it takes through consultations with all parties involved to resolve the issue because solutions can not be in one mind,” Serem said.
Serem said, “It takes teamwork to consult, share in the various strategies and provide solutions to problems because the strength of leadership is in dialogue,”
Milemba and Sossion dismissed the TSC statement saying the strike was protected after the Ministry of Labour gave them a Certificate of Disagreement.
TSC has maintained that the government harmonised the salaries of all teachers with those of other civil servants at a cost of Sh19.2 billion and that the parties to the dispute further agreed that all other negotiations for new salaries and allowances would be negotiated through statutory committee.
Lengoiboni said there were on-going negotiations on the terms and conditions of teachers as agreed on in the return to work formula and signed between the government and the unions in September 2012.
The Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) backed the ongoing strike by teachers.