After five decades, a giant teachers’ union has rejoined the umbrella body for workers, signalling a strengthening of trade unions at a time they are under siege.
With the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) rejoining Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu), the new force announced the push for a five per cent pay increment for their members as recently gazetted by President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Knut quit Cotu in 1969 at the instigation of the then government, which rounded its leaders in an attempt to break their unity.
But yesterday at Cotu headquarters in Nairobi, Knut Secretary General Wilson Sossion said the union was rejoining the umbrella workers’ body to enjoy the benefits of a united labour movement.
The teachers’ union has on many occasions taken on the Government with nationwide strikes, but is at times beaten into submission; through strong arm tactics and crippling court orders such as the one in January that blocked the latest push for a strike over pay.
Sossion, also an ODM nominated MP, said teachers were going back to Cotu to redesign their course in bargaining collectively and protect members from exploitative conditions at work.
He said Knut was one of the founding members of Cotu upon the dissolution of Kenya Federation of Labour and African Workers Congress.
He said the Government later forced the union and Kenya Civil Servants Union to leave Cotu, claiming that teaching and civil service were essential services whose staff should not belong to trade unions.
“The Government feared that the enormous size of these unions could create a threat to industrial peace, particularly in the event of a united challenge from Cotu and public service unions,” said Sossion.
He declared that Knut was rejoining Cotu after 50 years to assist in shaping relations between employers and workers to spur economic growth.
“Whether through negotiations for better salaries and enhanced terms of employment, court action or strikes, Knut has shaped relations with Teachers Service Commission (TSC). As we partner with Cotu, we will continue pushing workers' agenda through the same course," said Sossion.
With a combined force, he said, Kenyan workers, including teachers, should expect much more. "But I caution that we should avoid rivalry as splinter groups weaken unions.”
Cotu Secretary General Francis Atwoli put employers on notice, saying they must implement the five per cent wage increment as gazetted last week.
“There are employers who fail or delay to implement such increments. They have no choice this time but to do so,” said Atwoli.
He threatened to lead workers to agitate for the dissolution of Salaries and Remuneration Commission for interfering with the welfare of workers.
He called on employers to renegotiate CBAs after every two years as is the trend worldwide.
“We will meet the President and request him to order TSC to start renegotiating the CBA with teachers. We are now 3.3 million Cotu members. Government must listen to us,” said Atwoli.