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Knut under siege after tutors flee

By Augustine Oduor | September 8th 2020

Kenya National Union of Teachers Secretary General Wilson Sossion chats with Teachers Service Commission CEO Nancy Macharia during the release of last year’s KCPE exam results. [File, Standard]

A teachers’ union that once boasted the largest membership in the country has lost over 100,000 tutors in the last 15 months, new data shows.

The details reveal that the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) has also lost a huge chunk of its revenue, which has paralysed operations and driven the once untouchable organisation to its knees. 

Between June last year and last month, the union lost Sh853 million in monthly dues after its membership shrunk from 187,471 to 51,215 teachers.

The Standard has established that the diminished revenue stream has resulted in Knut property being auctioned for failure to service loans.

Staff have lost their comprehensive medical cover and suffered salary cuts as the union scales down its operations to work with the thinning budget.

An internal report reveals that the union has a monthly operations budget of Sh144 million across its 110 branches. This includes a payroll of Sh80 million for its more than 700 staff.

About 61 per cent of the monthly remittance from the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) is wired to the regional offices while the rest is used to run various programmes at the Knut head office as well as to pay the battery of lawyers who defend teachers’ interests.

Analysis of union dues in the past 15 months reveals that Knut did not receive any money from TSC in August, September and December last year.

The TSC has said that teachers have been leaving the union in droves after Employment and Labour Relations Court Judge Byram Ongaya issued a ruling last year that set aside Career Progression Guidelines introduced to guide promotions.

This after Knut had opposed the new guidelines and demanded that promotions be based on merit, seniority, vacancies, academic and professional qualifications.

The result was teachers’ mass exodus from Knut as the ruling meant that they were locked out of a lucrative Sh54 billion collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

But in its presentation to the National Assembly Education Committee last month, Knut accused TSC of engaging in a “systematic attack” on its members’ register, a claim the teachers’ employer has denied.

Rival union

“There has been a narrative that TSC removed members from Knut to benefit a rival union and that is not true. If teachers left any union, they did so on their own based on a court ruling that worked against them,” said TSC head of corporate affairs Beatrice Wababu.

A Knut report tabled before the Florence Mutua-led committee says the TSC designed, printed and directly delivered forms to schools, and compelled teachers to exit the union.

The report also claims that the TSC had set up a desk at the head office where Knut members were “manually exited” from the union register without their consent.

Knut deputy Secretary General Hesbon Otieno told MPs the TSC used a “digital validation process” to attack its membership register as well as dangling the CBA to edge teachers out of the union.

“And in some cases, the TSC transferred Knut post-primary members to Kuppet and ?forced them to pay agency fees,” said Otieno.

But TSC Chief Executive Officer Nancy Macharia said the commission could not disobey the court ruling.

“When the CBA was signed, it introduced a new grading system for teachers known as Career Progression Guidelines, which replaced the Scheme of Service. But Knut challenged the implementation of the CPG in court,” said Macharia.

According to her, the court ruling meant that all Knut members could not benefit from the third and fourth phases of the multi-billion-shilling salary raise and promotions deal.

“To comply with the resultant court orders, the commission undertook teacher promotion in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Code of Regulation for Teachers and the Schemes of Service for all Knut members, and CPG for non-members of Knut,” reads the TSC report tabled in Parliament.

The CEO said the commission did not unilaterally remove members from the Knut register. “Instead, removal of members is guided by the Labour Relations Act,” she added, citing sections 48(6) and (8) of the Act.

The sections state that an employer may not make any deductions from an employee who has notified the employer in writing that the employee has resigned from the union.

It also says an employer shall forward a copy of any notice of resignation received to the trade union.

Meanwhile, in a bid to resolve the impasse, the union and the commission are headed back to Parliament tomorrow when both parties are expected to appear, again, before the Education Committee.

MPs have implored the TSC and Knut to initiate talks and to also withdraw cases pending in court.

A letter inviting both parties to the meeting says it is an attempt to seek to find a way forward in case both parties are not willing to engage in talks to resolve the dispute.

Also to be discussed are steps already taken by Knut to resolve the conflict with the teachers’ employer.

Knut Secretary General Wilson Sossion yesterday said his legal team was ready to enter into consent that will pave way for an out-of-court settlement.

“We have tasked our lawyers and they are under instructions to record consent on all matters. They can even do that today,” said Sossion.

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