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Teachers' unions threaten to call strike in January over pay row

By Augustine Oduor | December 15th 2015

Teachers' unions have threatened to disrupt the reopening of public schools in January should the talks between them and the employer fail.

The talks were brokered by President Uhuru Kenyatta to end the long-running pay dispute that imploded last January and later led to an eight-week strike in September.

Monday, the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) and Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) officials gave the strongest indication of a looming confrontation.

Knut Secretary General Wilson Sossion said the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) was running out of time to save parents another round of agony.

"The more they delay, it shall be unfortunate to teachers but to the detriment of the Government. The sooner we negotiate and sign a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), the better for the sector," said Sossion.

Knut deadline

The union last week issued a deadline of December 25 as the last day for signing a CBA and noted that teachers would not be interested in further talks after that.

"My signature shall not be valid after Christmas," Sossion said last week, as he also announced signature collection will commence in January, next year, to kick out TSC commissioners.

And Kuppet Secretary General Akelo Misori Monday said the union would make a major announcement on Friday during the Annual Delegates Conference planned to take place in Bungoma.

"We do not want to talk now but will wait for the ADC and air our stand. It is not over yet," said Mr Misori.

A meeting called by TSC to kick-start salary talks flopped as the two unions rejected the proposal by the TSC to renegotiate the salary deal, days after President Uhuru intervened.

Sossion Monday cited the ruling of the Employment and Labour Relations Court judge Nelson Abuodha, which asked unions to call off the strike for 90 days in the interest of learners.

Sossion said the 90 days directed by the court will elapse on December 25.

"Our members are ready and we shall not run out of options. The teachers' strike was never called off, it was only suspended," said Sossion.

These developments in the teachers' pay row are the latest intrigues in the salary stalemate that saw public schools shut for eight weeks this academic year.

Schools were closed for three weeks in January and for another five weeks during the September strike.

Sossion Monday said 2015 was one of the toughest years for teachers but noted that the challenges faced have hardened the union members.

The salary stalemate kicked off early in the year after the Government and the unions failed to strike a middle ground on the salary proposal teachers had placed.

 The unions listed more than 33 items in their demands list, top of which was a 300 per cent salary increment.

After several meetings, TSC is said to have secretly tabled a 50-60 per cent salary increment, which was later retracted by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC), which argued there was no justification for the raise.

This marked the start of trouble as the unions insisted on the TSC counter-offer. Knut and Kuppet called a nationwide strike that lasted three weeks.

TSC moved to court to thwart the strike, sparking the long and winding court battle that spilt to September. Teachers suspended the January strike to allow room for talks, which never materialised.

Employment and Labour Relations court judge Nduma Nderi, through consensus, however offered to play the mediation role to end the stalemate.

But the Government and the unions failed to agree, prompting a ruling by Justice Nderi. In his judgement, Justice Nderi awarded all teachers a salary increase of between 50 and 60 per cent with effect from July 1, 2013 to July 30, 2015. TSC challenged the ruling, kicking off a long and winding court battle that culminated in the September strike.

Teachers again called a nationwide strike in September 1, and this again time, TSC moved to court to challenge their action. The strike lasted five weeks. TSC declined to pay teachers for the days they did not work.

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