By Lonah Kibet
Teachers begin their strike on Monday in defiance of a court order obtained by the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) late last week to keep them in class.
Mr Gabriel Lengoiboni, the TSC Secretary, told The Standard that they would follow the law and withhold pay for teachers who fail to report to work on Monday.
In addition, said Lengoiboni, the commission will not pay unions their dues if they defy the court order. He made the comments as Education Minister MutulaKilonzo said the teachers could be jailed if they defied the court order delivered on Friday last week.
But Knut national chairman Wilson Sossion said they were yet to be served with the court order.
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“Orders cannot be issued at the weekend. We were at our offices until 6pm on Friday and we were not served with any court order,” said Sossion, although TSC published the court order in our sister paper, Standard on Sunday.
The court had provided that TSC could serve the respondents by way of advertisement in at least two newspapers with nationwide circulation.
In any case, argued Sossion, the order was overtaken by events because the Government should have acted within the seven-day notice, which lapsed on August 27.
Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) and Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) called the strike to demand payment of overdue allowances.
Refused to yield
The unions and TSC have refused to yield even as the Salaries and Remuneration Commission, also in an advert in The Standard on Sunday, pleaded with the parties involved, including the Ministry of Education, to “exhaust all avenues provided for addressing the matter.”
Schools will reopen on Monday with uncertainty over learning due to the teachers’ strike, which the TSC warned is illegal, but defiant unions vowed will go on.
The Teachers Service Commission on Sunday publicised a court injunction stopping the strike and warning officials of arrest if they violated the order.
But Knut and Kuppet officials vowed they would not call off the industrial action.
Knut asked its members to stay away from schools on Monday when they reopen for the third term and directed them to assemble at its branch offices countrywide for briefing. Kuppet said their strike begins on Wednesday.
In its advert, SRC regretted parties had contravened its guidelines on negotiating pay disputes, which it had submitted in July to public service, including unions.
“The parties in the industrial action have so far not demonstrated compliance with the process of collective bargaining as provided in the legislation,” SRC said.
The court order obtained by TSC on Friday warned Knut and Kuppet that disobeying the order would attract proceedings for contempt of court “seeking your detention and other punishment.”
Justice Byram Ongaya fixed a hearing by both parties on Monday at 9am.
Knut and Kuppet officials said they would attend the court hearing, but would not call off the strike, and criticised the Industrial Court orders.
But Education Minister Mutula Kilonzo cautioned the unions against disobeying court orders saying they could have gone before a judge even on Sunday to have them varied or vacated.
“The strike commences on Monday as scheduled and all teachers should not be in classes. The strike will go on as long as the Government takes to address our issues,” Sossion said.
“Parents do not take your children to school because there won’t be teachers to receive them,” he cautioned.
Knut asked teachers to convene in their respective branch offices countrywide for further directives.
Kuppet secretary general Akello Misori claimed the services of the Industrial Court are often misused by the Executive and asked Chief Justice Willy Mutunga to focus his attention on the court.
“We have a pattern of this Government dealing with important national issues only at the last minute. This practice, which it has perfected in the process of constitutional implementation, is shrewd tactic of narrowing options for everyone else so that no matter how wrong its proposals are, the executive basically gets away with it, ” Misori said.
He added: “As the sole arbiter of disputes the Judiciary deserves respect and honour, but that must be earned rather than decreed.”
“We shall appear in court as directed on Tuesday to battle it out with the government. We will honour the law but will not call off the strike,” Misori said
Kuppet national chairman Omboko Milemba urged officials to stick together in view of the threats detailed in the court order.
“The strike is for all officials and we must own every decision and stand by them. We must be ready to be valiant for it is a do or break moment,” Milemba said.
“Teachers are prepared to be on strike as long as the Government is not ready to listen to their grievances and implement the demand for 100 percent pay rise,” Misori said.
Speaking during a special delegate’s conference in Nairobi, Misori and Milemba said teachers would not be cowed by court orders, threats of suspension or sacking.
Their right to picket was provided for in the Constitution, they added.
Kilonzo told the teachers’ unions to respect the ruling of the court as disobeying it would be making a “terrible mistake.”
He said had weighed the rights of teachers to go on strike and those of pupils to be taught.
Child’s best interest
“The teachers, according to the Constitution article 41(2d) have a right to go on strike but the same constitution article 53 (2) states that a child’s best interest is of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child,” he added.
Mutula noted that the judge must have concluded the right of the child to be in class in accordance with Article 22 (1) outweighed the industrial action.
Mutula said the issues the teachers were raising were negotiated in 1997 when some of the children they seeking to punish were not even born.
“This is against the Constitution as the teachers would be curtailing these children from realising their full potential just because of money which is being negotiated,” he added.
Sossion said the Government could not use the plight of children to blackmail teachers.
He told the Government to respect the agreement, which was gazetted.
“There has been no attempt by the Government to negotiate,” Sossion said. “TSC made a genuine request to the Treasury, but they kept quiet about it.” Sossion asked head teachers to stay away from schools and not to administer beginning of term exams.
The Kenya Education Management Institute, he said, should put on hold the exams until their grievances are addressed.
Milemba said it was unfortunate that teachers had not received harmonised house allowances since 1994. Kuppet scoffed at demands by Finance minister Njeru Githae that teachers negotiate with SRC.
“It is misleading for the ministers to claim that SRC which is yet to set up its secretariat can handle a matter that clearly falls under TSC,” Milemba said.
The officials urged parents not to send their children to school this week. “The union would not be responsible for safety of the children if parents do not take the warning seriously,” Misori said.