A nationwide lecturers’ strike kicked off yesterday, crippling learning in public universities and paralysing operations in referral hospitals across the country.
The striking lecturers downed their tools to demand better pay and remuneration and were joined by doctors supervising medical students in referral hospitals.
Speaking at a joint press conference, Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) and Universities’ Academics Staff Union (Uasu) officials announced the start of the strike.
Lecturers working in referral hospitals said they had withdrawn their services, leaving their students unsupervised.
“At Kenyatta National Hospital, there are 700 registrars, which means students specialising in various fields and 264 consultants employed by the university are now taking part in the strike,” said KMPDU Secretary General Ouma Oluga.
The lecturers vowed to stay put until the Government addressed their pay grievances.
“We want salary structures that will would do away with the distortions and conversations that barely make sense. As a professor, I earn less than my students who are KMPDU members,” said Uasu Secretary General Constantine Wasonga.
Dr Oluga blamed the strike on the Vice Chancellors Committee, which he accused of giving incorrect advice to the Ministry of Education.
“The blame lies squarely with the Ministry of Education, which was misled by the Vice Chancellors Committee, which keeps giving conflicting information that is not within the law,” he said.
Vice chancellors faulted the strike and accused the lecturers of impatience and lack of good faith.
The Inter Public Universities Councils Consultative Forum (IPUCCF), which represents the 31 public universities, said it had been difficult to get a counter-offer for the lecturers because of a change in leadership at the ministry.
“We have a new Cabinet Secretary (Amina Mohamed) and a new University Education Principal Secretary (Japhet Ntiba). Both must be briefed adequately on these matters and a decision made,” said the forum’s chairman, Paul Kanyari.
Prof Kanyari said consultative meetings on the lecturers’ demands had begun.
“If a counter-offer is to be tabled, it is not a universities affair alone. We must consult the ministry, Salaries and Remuneration Commission, National Treasury and even State Corporations Advisory Committee,” said Kanyari.
Appearing before the National Assembly Committee on Education last week, ministry officials said money to settle the lecturers’ collective bargaining agreement had been factored in the budget.
University Education PS Japhet Ntiba told MPs that the ministry was prepared to pay lecturers and asked them to negotiate through existing structures.
Earlier efforts by Government to bring lecturers on strike to the negotiating table proved futile.
Yesterday, Labour Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yattani met with the National Labour Board to discuss the crisis and called on the dons to give dialogue a chance.
“We appeal to the unions to realise that there is only one way out and that is dialogue,” he said.
The conciliator appointed by the CS to arbitrate the pay dispute said lecturers snubbed a meeting that could have prevented the boycott.
Geoffery Omondi said he had written to Uasu on Monday but only representatives from IPUCCF showed up.