Major crisis as cash-starved teachers' unions close offices

Knut Secretary General Wilson Sossion (left), Kuppet Chairman Amboko Milemba (second left) and Secretary General Akello Misori (second right) during a court session on teachers' salaries. [Photo: Beverlyne Musili/Standard]
Teachers’ unions are laying off workers and closing branches after employer TSC stopped deducting and remitting dues through the check-off system.

It emerged Sunday that the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) and the Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) have lost over Sh1 billion in the past six months.

Without the funding, the bulk of which finances operations including payment of staff salaries and renting office space, some of the 110 Knut and 35 Kuppet branches across the country have shut down.

“Since last October, we are yet to get union dues because the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) refused to deduct and remit the money to us,” said Knut Secretary General Wilson Sossion.

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Kuppet Secretary General Akelo Misori said at least eight of the union’s 35 branches have shut down, adding that they would “close shop” in the next few months if nothing changed.

Offices closed so far are Nairobi, Narok, Kajiado, Migori, Mombasa, Kilifi, Tana River and Garissa.

“It is unfortunate that unions now have to fight for their survival yet the Constitution clearly allows for their existence,” Misori told The Standard.

Knut used to receive about Sh131 million monthly from TSC in union deductions while Kuppet got Sh34 million.

Sossion and Misori said employees in the affected branches had not been paid for months. Some, he said, had been thrown out of their rented houses while others have been unable to pay school fees for their children.

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“Our staff are being harassed by landlords. And our junior staff cannot afford to pay rent. Neither can they afford to pay school fees for their children,” said Misori.

Sossion said union welfare programmes were collapsing. “We have about six to seven staff in each of the 110 branches countrywide. Our Trans Nzoia branch was closed,” said Sossion.

The Knut boss explained that about 61 per cent of the Sh131 million the union would get from TSC – translating to about Sh80 million – was disbursed to the 110 branches.

This means that the remaining 38 per cent – about Sh50 million – would go into running various programmes at the head office – including paying the battery of lawyers who defend teachers’ interests.

Every Kuppet branch has about three staff – executive secretary, a secretary and security.

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“We pay them between Sh15,000 and Sh60,000 in salaries. Our rent ranges from about Sh15,000 to Sh110,000 depending on location,” said Misori.

A recent statement from TSC, however, sought to exonerate the commission.

“The unions’ officials are aware that the commission did not deduct the dues as it has been authenticating union membership to resolve long-standing issues on union affiliation. The issue of releasing or remitting union dues does not, therefore, arise,” read a statement by Kihumba Kamotho, TSC head of communications.

With the TSC failing to deduct dues, the unions are at the mercy of members in regard to voluntary remittances.

Killing unions

“They are killing the unions. They are denying teachers their human rights and this is unfortunate,” said Sossion.

Sossion said TSC’s move to stop deductions was an affront to trade unionism.

“Trade union rights are human rights which are irreducible and we shall not rest until the leadership of TSC appreciates the value of teachers,” said Sossion.

Misori said union operations have been crippled, with rent and staff salaries being paid late, projects stalling and defaults on loan repayments.

Sossion declined to give the number of branches affected but admitted all was not well.

Misori painted a picture of a union on its deathbed and accused TSC of deliberately seeking to kill the unions.

“Our insurance policies are lapsing so we cannot benefit from the services. Some staff cannot even afford to pay hospital bills and they borrow transport from neighbours to enable them go to work. It is true,” he said.

Misori said the union had received a notice to vacate their head office premises.

“We haven’t paid rent for this quarter. We borrowed money to pay rent last November for the last quarter, but we are now struggling regarding the next quarter,” said Misori.

The union leader said if the check-off system was not re-introduced, the two unions would suffer a serious financial blow that could lead to their being referred to the Credit Reference Bureau, thereby affecting their ability to access loans in the future.

“In the next three months or so we shall close shop,” said Misori.

Sources told The Standard that some of the top officials have been unable to meet their mortgage obligations.

“Some of these officials have loans and I can tell you they are struggling to repay,” said a senior union official.

Misori said of the Sh34 million due to the union from members’ deductions, only Sh10 million catered for head office operations.

“The rest is channelled to branches to pay staff, rent and run programmes,” he said.

“This is small money that the TSC should just deduct and remit if they value trade unions’ existence,” said Misori.

Section 48 of Labour Relations Act says that a trade union may, in the prescribed form, request the minister (of Labour) to issue an order directing an employer of more than five employees belonging to a union to deduct dues from wages of its members; and pay monies so deducted into a specified account of the trade union.

The minister may, however, vary an order issued under Section 44 (2) on application by a trade union.

“An order issued under this section, including an order to vary, revoke or suspend an order, takes effect the month after the notice is served,” reads the law under Section 44 (5).

An employer is only barred from making any deductions on receiving a written notification from an employee of resignation from the union.

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Teachers Service CommissionKnutKuppetWilson SossionAkelo Misori