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Find lasting solution to teachers' strikes

By John Tsinje | Jan 29th 2015 | 4 min read

NAIROBI: Teachers in public primary and secondary schools trooped back to class because of the ruling by the Industrial Court urging them to do so as the Court mediates the dispute pitting Knut and Kuppet on one side against the government.

The deal that ended the strike was just a ceasefire. The country is yet to find answers to what has become a pastime for the teaching fraternity.

From the perspective of a parent, it is a problem that Kenyans should address as a matter of policy. The country must address three basic issues to resolve the impunity teachers have shown.

Things that need to be sorted include legal issues surrounding the strike, limits within which employees or teachers should make demands under the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and the quality of service the teachers offer Kenyans even as they demand higher salaries.

While the country should recognise the right of teachers to join or form trade unions, we should also ensure the constitutional right of the child to free and compulsory education is protected.

The Constitution and the laws appear to have given employees and particularly teachers, freedom to threaten and call strikes at will.

Labour laws in mature democracies recognise the constitutional right of employees to strike. However, these countries don’t view such in isolation. This is because strikes are expensive and disruptive for workers, employers and society.

We should borrow a leaf from mature democracies and provide framework that acknowledges the teachers’ right to strike, and also creates room for frank deliberations over disputed issues.

Employees should be obliged to exhaust all the procedures prescribed by labour laws before it contemplates a strike.

One wonders whether the parties in dispute, the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) and the teachers’ unions are aware of the said guidelines.

The 300 per cent increase demanded by teachers on basic salaries the unions initially demanded is certainly beyond what is payable within the sector.

Pay negotiation talks hinges on some basic principles that include how much money employees in similar positions get, qualifications and education earn. Other factors include productivity of the employees, ability for the employer to pay and the standards or cost of living.

Most pay increases come to mitigate the cost of living or inflation. Improved productivity of employees, which results into more profits for their organisations also come to play. The latter cannot be applied to the public service or teachers.

In most cases, the CBAs that employers and the workers sign range from eight to 15 per cent increments spread across two-year period and 40 per cent spread across four years.

In light of the fore-going limits in wage determination under the CBA system in the private sector, the teachers’ demand of 300 per cent pay rise was wild, to say the least.

The government needs to pay competitive salaries to attract the best teachers, but it faces a dilemma because inordinately higher salaries would raise the public budget unless teachers’ numbers fell.

This is exactly what the government did when it signed an MoU with Knut, which resulted in salary awards subsequently authenticated by Legal Notice number 534 of 1997.

Under the MoU, the government undertook to increase basic salary for teachers by between 150-200 per cent as per the1997 salary rates. In addition, the teachers were to be paid several allowances at pre-determined rates.

The award, which was to be implemented over a 10-year period led to the then Minister for Finance, Simon Nyachae banning automatic employment of new teachers from Teachers Training Colleges (TTCs) and Universities.

If the country gives in to the teachers demands, the government maybe forced to freeze employment of teachers. We may not have replacement for those who resign, retire or die.

Teachers are making astronomical salary demands under the shadow of a critical World Bank Report on Service Delivery Indicators Kenya, July 2013, which indicates that our public primary school teachers, who form the bulk of Knut members are not as dedicated to their work as they should.

“A public school child receives one hour nine minutes less teaching than her private school counterpart. The implication is that for every term, a child in a public school receives 20 days less of teaching time,” states the report.

The report further notes that just a third 35 per cent of public school teachers showed mastery of the curriculum they teach, while seniority and years of training among teachers did not correlate with better teacher competence.

These are the points that policy makers should address in the long term. We cannot have legal system that give trade unions unrestricted power to act the way they want oblivious of the detrimental effect their actions have on industrial peace and the economy.

We should also provide the ranges within which CBAs can be negotiated with regard to affordability and sustainability of the wages demanded. These principles should be incorporated into our labour laws.

The Government should institute rules and regulations to ensure that teachers are not only in school, but that once there, they go to class to teach.

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