The Registrar of Trade Unions Esther Gicheha has asked teachers’ unions to conduct their elections next month or risk being disbanded. But Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) Secretary General Wilson Sossion, who acknowledged Ms Gicheha’s directive, said it cannot be implemented.
“It is practically impossible to conduct elections in January. The Registrar of Trade Unions should also direct Teachers Service Commission (TSC) to remit funds to the union. Elections require huge budgets,” said Sossion.
However, the unions contend that without adequate funds to run their operations, conducting elections is a nightmare and failure to elect new officials might lead to disbandment of the unions. Sossion now wants Gicheha to direct TSC to remit the dues and allow them to participate in elections.
The unions see the failure by TSC to deduct union dues from their members as an attempt to cripple them.
Traditionally, the teachers’ employer deducts union payments directly from the teachers’ salaries and remits it to the unions every month. Both Knut and Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) are accusing TSC of violating the Labour Relations Act and denying the members the right of representation.
Kuppet Secretary General Akello Misori claimed there are some underhand tactics to deny the unions their bargaining power by crippling their operations. Mr Misori argued that the legal way to collect the union dues is through the check-off system by the employer and failure by the commission can only be construed as “sabotage and malice”.
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“There is a pot that has been hatched to cripple the unions by denying them cash to run operations, including negotiations. Without members, we will be a paper tiger,” said Misori.
According to Sossion, what TSC is doing amounts to blackmail and abuse of human rights. “The commission has blatantly violated the labour laws by refusing to remit the dues for three months. There is a widely choreographed plot to blackmail the unions to withdraw the case lodged at the Supreme Court,” said Sossion.
But TSC has denied claims that it has refused to deduct the union dues, saying they are still validating the unions’ membership. TSC Head of Communications, Kihumba Kamotho, rebutted the claims by the unions and insisted that the commission realised a myriad of issues including double membership, fraudulent recruitment and irregular transfer of members from one union to another.
According to Mr Kamotho, the unions even took the commission to court for transferring members from one union to another. And now the commission has set up an online verification platform for teachers to validate their membership before proper deduction of union dues can be reopened.
“We realised in August that there were a lot of irregularities with union membership. The commission has embarked on a validation exercise and once it is completed, we shall resume the deductions,” said Kamotho.
Kamotho said the validation process began when some teachers complained they were irregularly being deducted by a union they were not members of.
But Sossion reminded TSC that the Employment and Labour Relations Judge Nelson Abuodha had ordered the commission not to victimise or take any adverse steps against the teachers for participating in the strike called on September 1, and this included payment of full salaries and allowances without any deductions whatsoever.
He claimed that by failing to remit dues, TSC had tampered with the register of union members since members can only vote if their payslips reflect union deductions. Now the union is exploring the option of engaging banks to debit teachers’ accounts.