The stalemate: Why university lecturers’ strikes remain unsolved

Universities Academic Staff Union (Uasu) Secretary General Constantine Wasonga (R) and Chairman Prof Muga K'Olale during their meeting with the Senate Education Committee on UASU 2013-2017 CBA for Universities academic staff at Parliament on Thursday 08/03/2018. [Boniface Okendo,Standard]
The decision by the National Treasury and Ministry of Education to pull out of university workers' pay talks is the reason students take longer to graduate in public institutions.

As the ongoing lecturers' strike enters its second week, it has emerged that universities have been left to negotiate on their own since 2006, thanks to the government’s failure to send core representation, leading to perennial strikes that disrupt learning and create disturbance.

Finer details show the strong membership of Ministry of Education and Ministry of Finance in previous pay talks resulted in faster agreements that pushed students back to class.

A comprehensive look of pay talks between 2004 to date exposes how the government lost grip on universities academic calendar through annual protracted strikes.

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In 2004, the University Academic Staff Union (Uasu) signed an agreement with university councils to negotiate pay demands with the government, on their behalf.

The councils then formed the Inter-Public Universities’ Councils Consultative Forum (IPUCCF) as the negotiation engine with the unions.

The team was to negotiate Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs) at national level and ensure each university signed internal agreements with the unions based on demands specific to the chapters.

With government representation, a Joint Negotiation Committee (JNC) was put in place. It concluded, in record time, the first ever salary talks between the government and unions (2004-06).

Smooth talks

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The team comprised officers from the Office of the President, then known as the Directorate of Personnel Management (DPM), Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Education, IPUCCF and UASU.

This marked the last smooth salary negations between the public universities and the government.

“In the subsequent negotiations in 2006-08, 2008-10, 2010-13, 2013-17, the Office of the President, Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Education ceased to be members of the JNC,” said Uasu national chairman Muga K’Olale.

These details emerged Thursday when the two university workers unions appeared before the Senate Education Committee. K’Olale and Secretary General Constantine Wasonga led Uasu to Parliament.

Also present was the secretary general of Kenya University Staff Union (Kusu) Charles Mukhwaya. At the meeting, it emerged that after the exit of government teams, the IPUCCF was left on its own, creating a gap that invited the formation of the Vice Chancellors’ Committee (VCC). Technical University of Kenya Vice Chancellor Prof Francis Aduol is the current Committee chairman.

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“This is a vice chancellors’ club that exclusively caters for VCs interests as members of a different scheme of service of workers,” K’Olale said.

“As we speak they want to use our strike for salary and allowances demands to sneak in capitation increments which serve their own interests,” said Wasonga.

VCs now want Sh38 billion to end the strike, while unions say they can resume work if Sh10 billion is released, with incremental payments in subsequent years.

According to Uasu,the lack of strong government representation is the reason talks drag for long, with many false starts keeping students out of classes longer.

“After 2004, we have hardly negotiated in good faith. The best negotiations practices are never observed and each time we are due to negotiate, we must demand it through industrial action,” said K’Olale.

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The committee, led by its Chairman Christopher Lang’at, heard that IPUCCF lost its authority to vice chancellors with the departure of government representation.

Prolonged talks

Lang’at said the committee will summon VCs to respond to the claims next week.

“The VCs’ committee has since then consistently micro-managed the IPUCCF and undermined the CBA negotiations, resulting in talks being conducted outside the negotiation cycle,” K’Olale said.

The current stalemate affects 2017-21 CBA. Uasu said negotiations undergo seven stages, which it termed as unnecessary.

The IPUCCF only talks to UASU after they have had a brief from the VCs.

IPUCCF then meets officials from the Ministry of Education, after which they engage Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC).

SRC then engage the Ministry of Education officials before they talk to The National Treasury before an agreement is arrived and the CBA signed.

Senators heard that for the ongoing strike, up to six meetings were not honoured by the VCs after UASU presented its 2017-21 CBA proposal to IPUCCF on March 30, 2017.

“The government and IPUCCF gave various deadlines to give the union a counter-offer and conclude the CBA. Six deadlines have been given in total,” Wasonga said.

In the process, Uasu claimed, the VCs insert fresh demands and manipulate the process, including inflation of student numbers to shore up capitation.

The unions said the solution to faster negotiations and completion of universities salary talks lies in return of strong representation of government teams.

“We don’t like strikes. We sympathise with 600,000 students. They delay graduations. Learning is interrupted. And all this is because of poor structure of negotiations,” said Wasonga.

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