Intern tutors to wait longer for better terms

Teachers Service Commission CEO Nancy Macharia. [Denis Kibuchi, Standard]

The nearly 60,000 teachers hired by the Teachers Service Commission as interns will continue working under the same terms.

Two weeks ago, the Employment and Labour Relations Court (ELRC) found their employment contracts to be illegal.

But on Friday, a court directed that the status of their employment should remain. This is until the commission either gets temporary orders from the Court of Appeal or reaches a compromise.

Justice Byrum Ongaya, however, gave TSC a grace period of three months, meaning that it has to seek intervention from the higher court or absorb all the affected teachers on permanent and pensionable terms.

A day after Ongaya issued the orders, the Kenya Junior Secondary School Teachers Association (KeJUSTA) wrote to its members saying it is waiting for the interpretation of the term ‘status quo.’

It argued that it was unclear what the judge meant.

“I wish to caution teachers against misguided interpretation of the ruling and the misplacement of the term status quo as it appears in the ruling,” wrote KeJUSTA Secretary General Daniel Murithi.

Suspend judgment

In the meantime, TSC moved back to court to suspend the judgment claiming that it would jeopardize its plan to employ the interns next year.

However, Justice Ongaya said the application meant that TSC was asking him to sit on his own judgment.

He however stated that the status quo be maintained until August 1, 2024.

“It is in the interest of justice, it appears to the court that it would be appropriate for the status quo prior to the judgment to be maintained with respect to the findings and orders of court in the judgment, pending a compromise or rearrangement of the affairs between parties or applicants filing appropriate application at the Court of Appeal,” ruled Justice Ongaya.

Ongaya ruled that TSC had violated the right to fair labour practices by giving the teachers internship positions while they were qualified and possessed teaching licenses.

TSC hired at least 60,000 teachers as interns to teach junior secondary schools (JSS).

The teachers, who have been the backbone of the implementation of the Competency-Based Curriculum, have vowed not to go back to work until the issue is resolved, throwing the fate of JSSs into limbo.

In his verdict, Justice Ongaya said the commission cannot hire or engage student-teachers or interns as its mandate is limited to employing those who are qualified and registered.

“The respondents have not exhibited statutory regulatory or policy arrangements that would entitle the first respondent (TSC) to employ interns. Ideally, the first respondent should employ registered teachers upon terms that are not discriminatory and to meet the optimal staffing needs in public schools,” he said.

Permanent basis

The programme was introduced to reduce teacher shortage in schools, particularly at the advent of junior secondary school. It was initially set to run for one year before the interns were absorbed on permanent basis. But in December, President William Ruto announced that the teachers will be required to serve an extension of one year before they can be considered for employment.

In the case, the court heard that TSC gave contracts to the interns to teach two subjects. However, in reality, they ended up teaching every subject.

There were also complaints that despite the tutors being paid a stipend TSC deducted all taxes and contributions required by the government, including the controversial housing levy.

The case was filed by the Forum for Good Governance and Human Rights on behalf of the interns. It indicated that those hired were not supervised but left to grapple with all subjects on their own.

“The second respondent is handling the lives and rights of the children casually as test guinea pigs to confirm whether the CBC, can work,” the court heard.

One of the affected teachers filed an affidavit in support of the case. In his affidavit, Oroso Oganga narrated that he was sent to Eking Narok Primary School in Kajiado County.

A Bachelor of Education (Arts) graduate, he said his contract with TSC was clear that he was to teach History or Christian Religious Education. When he reported to the school on February 7, 2023, however, he ended up teaching Computer Science, Integrated Science, Social Studies, CRE, Health Education and Life Skills.

Oroso said despite all that work, he was paid only a Sh20,000 stipend.