Teachers take to the streets over pay. The strike that ended a week ago paralysed learning for a month.[PHOTO: BENJAMIN SAKWA/STANDARD]
By VITALIS KIMUTAI
KENYA: The recent teachers’ strike has had far reaching implications on the way trade unions engage with the employers.
It also clearly demonstrated that the times when unions used to cut political deals with Government before ending a strike are behind us.
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The strike brought to fore the tactics that President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto have employed in dealing with the thorny issue of persistent strikes among public servants pushing for better remunerations.
It also exposed the rivalry between Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut), the Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (KUPPET), Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) and Federation of Public Service Trade Unions (F-PUSETU).
At the same time, the separation of powers between the Executive and the Judiciary was clearly demonstrated early in the week when the Knut paid the ultimate price for defying court orders.
The straw that broke the camel’s back in the Knut case was when the Government resorted to tough measures including reinstating a contempt case against the union and its leadership, freezing pay for teachers, threatening to withhold union dues and closing down all primary schools. Knut is said to have gotten wind of the move by the Government to close down schools and its leadership engaged in an overdrive gear to seek intervention from the political class on the matter. Knut had accused KUPPET of entering into ‘an inferior deal with the Government’, which saw harmonisation of commuter, medical, responsibility and special schools needs allowances within two years.
Knut blamed Cotu for allegedly scuttling the strike, which would have been the biggest the country.
Mr Ernest Nadome, a member of Cotu’s Executive Board denied claims of sabotage saying Knut failed to heed advice from the umbrella union to enter into structured negotiations with the Government.
Knut has been at loggerheads with Cotu especially after the formation of the Federation of Public Service Trade Unions (F-PUSETU) which Sossion and his team were instrumental in forming.
After KUPPET signed a deal with the Government for implementation of the harmonisation of allowances for their members and those of the civil servants. But Knut termed the deal inferior and demanded the Government gives the union members better deal. President, Labour Cabinet Secretary Kazungu Kambi and his Education counterpart Jacob Kaimenyi stated the wage bill was too high and the demands by the union could not be met in full.
While KUPPET under its national chairman Omboko Milemba and Secretary General Akello Misori went ahead and engaged the TSC on structured talks, Knut leadership did not want anything to do with the negotiation insisting that the Legal Notice number 534 of 1997 be implemented in full. “The truth of the matter is that the deal that the teachers will be enjoying is the one that was delivered by KUPPET,” Misori said.
But Sossion said that Knut had been the defender of the teachers’ rights across the country for 54 years and that the union had been forced to settle for the terms after Government indicated it could not afford to meet the demands. “It was not possible that we would be on strike forever. It is also not true that we did not want dialogue.
In fact, we engaged the Government on the issues,” Sossion said. Knut dropped pursuing the implementation of the Legal Notice Number 534 of 1997 and pushed for harmonisation of allowances, which KUPPET had exclusively negotiated for. While Knut wanted commuter allowances increment pegged at 10 per cent of the basic pay, house allowance at 50 per cent, medical allowances at 20 per cent while KUPPET wanted full harmonisation of the allowances for the teachers with those of the civil servants.
Demand for increase
Had Knut stuck to the demand for 10 per cent increase of commuter allowance based on basic pay, teachers in Job Group G would have earned Sh1,509 and those in Job Group R would have taken home Sh9,424.
The other job groups would have earned – H (Sh1,720), J (Sh2,232),K (Sh2,632,L (Sh3,047), M (Sh3,527), N (Sh4,084),P (Sh6,378) and Q (Sh7,753). But in the KUPPET deal, teachers in Job Group G will now earn Sh 4,000 commuter allowance from Sh1,001 previously paid to them by their employer.
Those in Job Group R who were earning Sh4,410 will now earn Sh16,000.The other job groups benefiting are – J and K (Sh5,000), L (Sh6,000), M and N (Sh8,000), P (Sh12,000), Q (Sh14,000), R (Sh16,000). Teachers in special schools will receive a flat rate of Sh10,000 per month and Sh15,000 as readers allowance for the blind teachers. Responsibility allowance pegged at 100 per cent of the basic pay would also be implemented at once alongside the special schools allowances. On the face of it, Knut signed document that would see the Government implement the allowances in two phases of 50 per cent each, but the schedule indicates it would be in three phases. The KUPPET deal indicates the implementation would be done in three phases in 24 months with 40 per cent and 60 per cent being paid to teachers.
Uhuru and Ruto repeatedly told Knut to call off the strike in line with court orders and negotiate with the Government.