Revealed: Why Knut and Kuppet are engaged in a fresh big fight

The Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) Secretary General Collins Oyu chats with KUPPET Secretary General Akello Misori during the signing of the 2021 - 2025 collective bargaining agreement with teachers unions and TSC. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

The two main teachers’ unions are spoiling for a fight to restore credibility in the eyes of their members and to stamp their authority with the employer.

Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) and the Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) have taken firm opposing positions on ongoing proposed amendments to the Teachers Service Commission Act.

It is now emerging that the push to amend the TSC Act has given the unions a new battlefront, smarting from the embarrassment of the non-monetary Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) they signed two years ago, which pushed them out of favour with their members.

Last week, fresh emotions played out when the TSC invited education stakeholders to a public participation meeting on the proposed amendments to the Act.

Knut was the first to throw a salvo at TSC, declaring they would not attend the meeting. At the media briefing, on the eve of the meeting, Knut Secretary-General Collins Oyuu criticised the proposed law changes, terming the consultative meeting as "short on notice and punitive to teachers."

He further highlighted specific points of objection to each of the contested clauses. “If you look at the draft proposals, page by page, it is very punitive to teachers. We are not ready to be scolded anymore,” Mr Oyuu said.

A similar outburst spattered from Kuppet secretary general Akello Misori. Though Kuppet officials honoured the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) consultative meeting, they stood firm against the teachers’ employer.

Mr Misori accused TSC of being domineering and faulted its push for more powers. “You want a lot of powers but you don’t want to go to the real substance of the matter. You act bossy yet it is us who created you. If you did not exist under the Constitution, you would be nowhere and therefore we are not coming here because of any fear. We are coming here to build a case,” Misori said.

The statements by Oyuu and Misori exposed the undercurrents between the unions that seem to have endured years of suppression and now ceasing opportunity to stand for their members.

The open defiance signals fresh fight over teachers’ membership between the two unions as old strategies of outwitting each other to woo members played out again.

After nearly two years of passive boardroom negotiations that led to an embarrassing non-monetary CBA, the two teachers’ unions seem to be angling to take over their space through outright defiance of the TSC.

Interviews with officials of both unions reveal a brewing membership fight as they seek to grab the opportunity to redeem themselves and win over members.

In their submissions, Knut and Kuppet listed their points of departure with the employer on the proposed amendments.

Kuppet faulted TSC for not involving them on salary reviews in its proposed amendments. Misori accused TSC of failing to include the unions in determining pay for teachers, in its proposed amendments.

The proposal by TSC, Misori said, only acknowledged the place of Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC), which provides an advisory on the pay of civil servants.

“They (TSC) did not mention Article 41 of the Constitution, it has not been mentioned anywhere and that is where we derive our power. When you mention article 237 of the Constitution which gives SRC powers to determine our salaries with TSC then you must engage article 41 because all of us have the right to participate in collective bargaining, there is no CBA that has been mentioned on that document,” Misori said.

The new kid on the block, Kenya Union of Special Needs Education (KUSNET), though still young and has not been part of the high-octane trade union politics, also faced the TSC.

“You have talked about the safety of learners, but you are forgetting about the safety of teachers, how comes our teachers are being chased away from schools by goons. Poor performance of duty, there is no thermometer that can measure that,” said James Torome, KUSNET secretary general.

KUSNET was registered in February 2011 and recognised by TSC in March 2021.

Pitching the case for KNUT, Oyuu faulted TSC for proposing to discipline teachers without being bound by strict rules of evidence as envisioned by article 50 of the Constitution on fair hearing.

He said TSC is silent on handling teacher pension which, he said, has been the biggest problem affecting retiring members. “We expected that TSC will streamline management of teacher pension and make it a department within TSC,” Oyuu said.

He also faulted TSC for proposing to collect data on teachers from all sources and manage the same according to their own rules. “This is in violation of both the Data Protection Act 2019 and the Constitution," Oyuu said.

He said TSC has been disciplining teachers, hearing the appeals and therefore managing it all unto themselves.

"There is need to have a joint TSC and KNUT review committee, which shall be identifying cases that deserve review and then an appeals tribunal be formed to hear these teachers,” Oyuu said.

Kuppet chairman Omboko Milemba said: “On the issue of progressive training of teachers we need to sit down with TSC to know how will it be carried out, who will pay for it. You have been given the chance to fix that.”

He added: “We have a chance to fix promotions. We signed that CBA in Naivasha [2017-2021 CBA] which made promotions be pegged on administrative positions which has really hurt promotions. This amendment bill presents a chance to correct that.”

The Standard has however established that behind the firm opposition to the proposed sections of TSC Act, is a quiet fight by the unions to regain their grip and assure members of their strength.

Sources from both unions accuse the other of holding brief for the government. Knut accuses Kuppet of working closely with TSC. While Kuppet accuses Knut of working closely with Ministry of Education officials at Jogoo House.

It is emerging that Knut is not happy with the transfer of 40,000 Junior Secondary School (JSS) teachers to Kuppet and faults TSC for favouring the rival union.

“How can TSC move all JSS teachers to Kuppet yet these teachers are domiciled in primary schools? This is outrightly wrong and seems to give undue advantage to one union,” said a Knut insider.

Oyuu downplayed the membership war and noted that theirs is to fight for teachers’ best interest.

Kuppet officials argue that JSS teachers are high school tutors, teaching secondary school curriculum only that students they teach are domiciled in primary schools.

“JSS teachers are secondary school teachers and anyone claiming otherwise is mistaken. And the claim that they have been moved to Kuppet is false,” said Misori.

Oyuu however said: “JSS is not in post primary school. This is a new system and we only have Senior School. The presidential working party changed all this and they (Kuppet) should be honest.”

Misori further said: “They (Knut) should emend their constitution to only represent primary school teachers because that is their core membership.”

Oyuu responded: “Our Constitution is still open and many secondary teachers are our members. Demarcation is non-existent in law and is still open in labour relations law.”

He said teachers must be free to pick a union of choice until the law is amended.

“We have National Executive Committee members who are secondary school teachers. They can also amend their constitution. They tried and failed so they cannot lecture us on our constitution,” said Oyuu.

The fight over constituency of representation between KNUT and KUPPET did not start last week.

In 2013, then Knut Secretary General Wilson Sossion protested to the Ministry of Labour, citing the Labour Relations Act section 2 that provides for recognition agreement that regulates labour and industrial relations in Kenya.

In an advisory letter dated May 8, 2013, then registrar of trade unions, William Langat said:

“Kuppet representation is limited to teachers in secondary and tertiary institutions by virtue of the provisions of Article 7 of their constitution, whereas KNUT is open to all teachers, in terms of Article 111 of their constitution.”

Misori responded, accusing Knut of meddling in its internal affairs.

“Kuppet does not consult KNUT on whether to change its constitution. Section 27 (1) and (2) of the Labour Relations Act are clear on change of name or constitution of trade unions, employers organisations or federations,” said Misori.

Misori cited Section 27 (1) which says that a trade union, employers’ organisation or federation may resolve to change or replace its constitution or change its name.

The scramble for teachers’ representation is, however, the culmination of membership wars that has rocked the two trade unions in the teaching sector since 2012.

The fight has been so bad that Kuppet nearly amended its constitution to incorporate a mandate to represent primary teachers.

But the rivalry between the two unions dates back to November 1998 when the Government allowed the registration of Kuppet to check then-powerful KNUT.

And old strategies to woo members seem to play out again.

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