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KNUT delivers its promise to teachers despite all odds

By Kibiwot Koross | Nov 25th 2013 | 5 min read
                                                     Wilson Sossion                    PHOTO:COURTESY

By Kibiwot Koross

Founded during the colonial days, the teachers’ trade movement in Kenya, under the umbrella of the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT), has persistently fought for the rights of members and improved terms of service.

Indeed, despite all odds KNUT leadership has soldiered on to ensure the dignity and integrity teachers is upheld through salary reviews and other terms of engagement with their employer, the Government.

Current National chairman, Wilson Sossion says teachers will continue advocating not only for better remuneration of teachers but their welfare at large.

He says offer better and quality education, teachers should be equipped and trained in line with the emerging trends of advanced technology in the country and other emerging trends.

“As a union, we understand that since the implementation of free education, there has been increase in learner enrolment and which has not translated to the teachers,” says Sossion.

“We need more teachers so that our school children can be attended to adequately at all times.”

He says Kenyan teachers are among the best trained in the world and urged the government to improve their working conditions for better service delivery. Improved terms will make it easier for teachers to deliver on Vision 2030 Education Pillar objectives.

“We need smart boards and banning of black boards for health reasons. I assure you when our teachers are well taken care of, they will deliver,” he added.

During the colonial days teachers were never allowed to meet and exchange ideas. This, therefore, kept them ignorant of their rights and exposed them to exploitation, the need for a trade union to fight for their rights and better terms of service.

This meant they were exploited by their paymasters who included missionaries and local councils.

But even with this grim picture, teachers would soon learn to come together and form unions though based on their religious backgrounds. In 1934, however, James Gichuru and Eluid Mathu formed a teacher’s organization, known as Kenya African Teachers Union (KATU). KATU eventually vanished under the pressure of powers of the time. This was because it was very difficult to organize an effective national organization of workers at that time because of communication problems. In early 1950s, Makerere and Kagumo Colleges produced a higher calibre of teachers, which teachers’ organizations began coming up.

This is because these teachers communicated after training and hence learnt of the diversity of their terms and conditions of service. Teachers, therefore, began by forming regional Teachers Organizations based on denominations or Provinces.

They included:

• Nyanza African Teachers Union (NATU)

• Catholic African Teachers Association (CATA) both in Nyanza Province;

• Rift Valley African Teachers Association (RATA)

• Coast African Teachers Union (CATU)

• Central Province African Teachers Union called Kikuyu Teachers Union (KTU)

Even with this development, there was no way teachers could exchange information with their counterparts in other regions or provinces.

In 1955, one of the teachers’ leaders from Rift Valley Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi, now retired President, was elected to the Legislative Council (Legco) now called National Assembly. Mr Moi successfully moved a motion in the house in 1957 that the Government should help the teachers in Kenya form one national body. The Government accepted the motion.

This made the then Minister for Education Mr W.F. Coutts invite all leaders to a meeting in December 1957 at Pumwani D.E.B. School. At this meeting, one teacher organization, known as the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) was born. A committee was then launched with Mr Ignatius Mkok as its interim President.

Mr Stephen J. Kioni was appointed the interim Secretary General. A year later, December 10, 1958, the Central Executive Committee convened the first Annual Conference at the Pumwani D.E.B. School. At this Conference, the KNUT Conference was ratified. The first National elections were held and Mr Samwel Ayany was elected the first President and Mr. Stephen J. Kioni the first Secretary General. On 14th May 1959 KNUT was officially registered as a trade union.

Despite its registration, KNUT as a Trade Union could not do any serious work because Mr Stephen Kioni who had been elected as Secretary General was still a full-time teacher at Kilimambogo Teachers Training College.

It was not until 1960 when Kioni resigned to devote his energy full-time to KNUT.

He established the first KNUT Office in one of the garages in Ruiru Town without salary, since the Union had no funds to pay him. That same year, Mr. Samwel Ayany attended a World Confederation of Organisations of the Teaching Profession (WCOTP) Assembly in Rome where he got KNUT affiliated to WCOTP although he had been invited to attend as a representative of the Nyanza African Teachers Union (NATU).

He made an approach for assistance to KNUT from WCOTP. The WCOTP accepted and undertook to pay Mr. S.J. Kioni part of his salary. This was so until 1964 when the Union began realizing some money from members through a check-off system. Soon after setting up offices, the Central Executive Committee, which later became the National Executive Council, met and issued the first policy demands, which included:-

I. A single Employer for all teachers.

II. Unified Terms and Conditions of Service.

III. Free Pension for all teachers.

IV. Provision for negotiating machinery.

V. Pay rise for all teachers in all grades.

VI. Responsibility allowance for all posts of responsibility.

VII. Abolition of the Colonial Code of Discipline.

The government responded by appointing the Lawrence Sagini Commission to look into the demands of KNUT.

After prolonged negotiations, KNUT rejected the recommendations of this Commission. The government then appointed another body called the Teachers’ Salaries Commission. Whose recommendations were not very different from the Lawrence Commission. Here, the KNUT resolved to stage token strikes.

Between 1962 and 1969, four major strikes were staged. The first strike took place between 18th September and 11th October, 1962.

This was a nationwide strike with the results that:

(i) The government appointed a joint consultative and negotiative committee under the chairmanship of Mr W. Rogers of the University of Nairobi, and the Union effectively put the case to the satisfaction of Mr Rogers who resigned as a result of the government’s refusal to implement the findings of this committee.

(ii) From 1st January, 1963 the government accepted to introduce Check-Off-System for collection of union dues. It was effected in 1964.

(iii) 1965 -the establishment of a Teachers Service Commission under the chairmanship of Joseph Gatuguta and Mr. Solomon Adagala as Secretary. The commission was disbanded because of pressure from KNUT, which rejected the manner in which it was constituted.

All along the Union has continued to fight and advocate for teachers rights, at times, forcing the government to give in. KNUT’s achievements so far

Better salaries

Better working conditions

Teachers have been allowed to further their studies without affecting their careers

Teachers have been allowed to earn relatively fairer share of salaries and wages and other benefits like those of other civil servants

Teachers from different regions have also gotten a chance to exchange ideas and information.

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