President Uhuru Kenyatta has convinced the Kenya Union of Post-Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) to agree to fresh pay negotiations, a day after a similar deal exposed divisions in another giant teachers’ union.
Kuppet officials agreed to return to talks with the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) on a collective bargaining agreement (CBA), just like their counterparts, the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut).
“I have had a fruitful discussion with the leadership of Kuppet today. And I am certain that within this month, as they go into discussions with TSC, we will get results that will enable all of us, as Kenyans, to work together for the interests of the children of this country,” President Kenyatta said yesterday in a statement released by State House.
Kuppet National Chairman Omboko Milemba and Deputy Secretary General Moses Nthurima endorsed the agreement to kick-start pay talks that stalled early this year, prompting a bitter legal tussle that culminated in the Court of Appeal ruling last week that scrapped a 50-60 per cent basic salary award.
But as Kuppet presented a united front at State House, fresh details have emerged of bitter exchanges between Knut National Chairman Mudzo Nzili, who led the team that brokered the deal with the President, and secretary general Wilson Sossion, who did not attend the talks.
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The deal that gave teachers their September salaries and a chance for fresh negotiations with TSC also revealed cracks in the union's leadership.
Mr Nzili yesterday maintained Mr Sossion was adequately briefed prior to the meeting with Uhuru, but chose not to attend. Nzili said he personally called Sossion at about 2.30pm to come to a city hotel where the Knut steering committee was gathered ahead of the State House meeting.
"I called him, he came. We explained to him and he refused to go. The steering committee made the decision that we must go and we went. This thing is about teamwork, not a one-man show," said Nzili.
Sossion yesterday said some officials had reduced him to a junior member of Knut by not properly briefing him on what the State House meeting was all about.
He also said there was nothing to beg State House about as the September salaries and union dues were teachers' rights and the Supreme Court was the last redress.
"I cannot stop any member from meeting anybody in the country. But on union matters, even if they pursue other interests, they should tell me what is happening so that we take a collective position," said Sossion.
He claimed that on Tuesday morning, Nzili led two other officials - assistant secretary general Hesbon Otieno and second national woman representative Jacinta Ndegwa - to a prior State House meeting, which he was not briefed about.
"If such a meeting had taken place and I was not informed as the union spokesperson, then what was it all about? I was not aware of anything. What was I to tell the President?" posed Sossion.
A member of the steering committee told The Standard that Sossion may have turned down the meeting because he had warned the State that teachers would not elect Jubilee in the next elections.
"...But during the meeting he was never discussed at all," said the member who also attended the State House meeting. A close confidant of Sossion, however, said the Knut secretary general was determined to push the 50-60 per cent salary increment to the Supreme Court.
"Sossion felt teachers' grip on the matter was still strengthened by the fact that the Supreme Court intervention would have overturned the Court of Appeal ruling and so there was no crisis as teachers had been hardened and prepared for the full judicial process," said the Knut member, who also attended the State House meeting.
But yesterday, Nzili termed it as a small difference and downplayed the division.
"You cannot compare this to when I was asked to leave the secretary general's position and settle for national chairman. This is a storm in a tea cup," he said.
He said teachers had suffered enough and union officials had been looking for ways of breaking the stalemate by unlocking teachers' pay.
"Each one of us was talking to someone and when an opportunity emerged that the President was ready to meet us, we chose to make use of the President's prerogative of mercy," he said. ?Nzili said the Court of Appeal ruling had injured teachers.
?"Taking into account the suffering of teachers and the embarrassment of the union, we had to get an amicable settlement. There was an executive order that the check-off system on union dues be suspended," he said.
He said Knut employees at the head office and branches had not received their August and September salaries.
"We had also acquired buses for branches. There was fear that without money they would be auctioned and carted away. So we agreed to look for solutions," said Nzili.
He said he personally briefed Sossion at a city hotel, together with the assistant secretary general and John Matiang'i, the national treasurer.
"I explained to him that our day is today. If we do not take this, our Kuppet friends will go the following day. Let us go take the September salaries, union dues and no victimisation of the teachers," Nzili said in an interview.
Yesterday, Kuppet led by Mr Milemba said it was important to move negotiations forward for the interest of the Kenyan child.
"We welcome the President's initiative to deal with these matters in a comprehensive way," he said.
Mr Nthurima said the union had agreed to go back to the negotiation table.
"We are happy you have returned hope to teachers of this country," he said.
Uhuru said both parties must negotiate in a peaceful environment, with the sole objective of the welfare of children. He exuded optimism that talks between Kuppet and TSC would come up with a lasting solution to perennial teachers' strikes.
"I am certain that within this month, as they go into discussions with TSC, we will get results that will enable all of us, as Kenyans, to work together for the interest of the children of this country," said President Kenyatta.
The two meetings resolved that TSC should consider paying all teachers their September dues while teachers who were on duty during the strike given an appropriate compensation for their extraneous work.
The meetings also recommended that TSC and unions begin dialogue to come up with a four-year CBA to address key issues touching on the education sector.