Teachers Service Commission risks fresh legal action for breach of promise

The Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) will return to the Industrial Court seeking to compel the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) to pay and transfer teachers who fled north eastern fearing for their lives after 27 of their colleagues were killed by terrorists.

Six months after the teachers petitioned TSC to transfer them, they are still in limbo. The commission has failed to settle the dispute out of court as it had requested.

By the expiry of the 30-day period yesterday, there were no indications the commission had made significant progress.

Inquiries of how the employer was handling the matter drew blanks as the commission’s communications office said it did not have any details.

Consequently, a fresh showdown looms between TSC and Knut after the commission allegedly failed to honour its word on the fate of hundreds of teachers seeking transfers out of the volatile region.

Knut secretary general Wilson Sossion says the union will report to the judge TSC’s conduct “on July 7 when the case comes up for mention.”

“This is a judicial process that should now be left to run its course. There is no commitment on the part of the commission and we are not willing to be taken round in circles again by an employer who cannot honour promises,” Sossion says.

Asked about the status of the matter, TSC communications officer Kihumba Kamotho said a meeting had been scheduled with the teachers but he did not divulge further details.

Gradual process

“We asked for out of court settlement of the dispute. A meeting has been scheduled, but I do not have the details,” Mr Kamotho responded on phone.

As TSC drags its feet on the matter, the Parliamentary Committee on Education launched scathing criticism on the commission, Education Cabinet Secretary Jacob Kaimenyi, NEP leaders and communities for their apathy to the plight of the teachers and their pupils.

Committee chair Sabina Chege told The Standard on Saturday that TSC should be held responsible for the education chaos in north eastern.

“The committee in its oversight and advisory role in the education sector concurs with TSC that it cannot transfer teachers en masse. North Eastern is part of Kenya and the affected children are Kenyans. It should have effected the transfers on a case by case basis without disrupting learning,” says Ms Chege.

She says TSC had promised to transfer teachers who had served in the region for more than five years as a priority and proceed with the rest gradually as the government looked into security issues, but so far that has not happened.

Early in the year, TSC advertised teaching jobs in the three counties, but the response was poor.

As of last month, there were reports that even those hired in the recruitment have been forced to flee after they were attacked.

The situation was made worse in early April when Al Shabaab descended on Garissa University and killed 148 people, 142 of them being students.

Ms Chege blamed elected leaders from the region for the prevailing problem.

“North Eastern leaders have been part of the problem. Together with the host communities, the leaders should have been friendly to the teachers to assure them of their security and well being.

“What the teachers have been saying has been confirmed as true. The massacres took place and Al Shaabab is still active in the region. The teachers’ fears and concerns are genuine and should have been handled as such,” the MP says.

The legislator spoke against reports that since the beginning of the year, more than 80 schools in Garissa, Wajir and Mandera counties had closed down for lack of teachers.

She argues that the ministry and TSC are involved in a zero sum game.
Chairman of the teachers who fled NEP region, Mr Johannes Osoro says they will not relent until their grievances are addressed.

Bullying tactics

“If TSC has not complied with court orders, we will return to court to compel our employer to enforce its orders. There is blatant defiance by the government to frustrate us into throwing in the towel,” Mr Osoro says.

The affected teachers have defied orders by the government to return to their work stations after 27 of their colleagues, mainly Christians from other parts of Kenya, were massacred by Al Qaeda-backed Al Shabaab in – alleged – retaliation to the presence of Kenya Defence Forces in Somalia.

After camping at TSC headquarters for three months demanding to be transferred, the teachers sought the intervention of the Industrial Court to compel their employer to transfer them, reinstate them on the payroll and pay them hardship allowance arrears.

Instead of the commission sitting down with the teachers to chart the way forward, it resorted to intimidation and arm-twisting tactics to frustrate them back to work.

After the Industrial Court ordered TSC to pay the teachers their March and April salary, Osoro says only a few have been paid.

The situation was not made any better when MPs from North Eastern threatened the teachers with unspecified consequences while Kaimenyi wants Knut officials committed to jail for inciting teachers.