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Teachers strike gold after 18-year battle

Education
 Uasin Gishu High School teachers in Eldoret celebrate yesterday after the Kenya National Union of Teachers won a case over salary increment. In a landmark ruling, the Employment and Labour Relations Court directed that the over 280,000 teachers in the country will share out the increment that will be spread over four years. [PHOTO: Peter Ochieng/standard]

NAIROBI: Teachers struck gold after close to a decade of protracted negotiations often forced by national strikes but left the Jubilee Administration with a new headache – that of managing the already bloated and unenviable public wage bill.

With the stroke of a pen, the emboldened Employment and Labour Relations Court, gave the award with a declaration that it should cure the perennial stand-offs between teachers and their employer.

At the same time, the court sought to bridge the gap between what the teaching staff and the supervising cadre at the headquarters and its regional affiliates earn.

But signs that the award came with a bitter taste for a Government already grappling with a heavy public wage bill and which has recently had to drop its computer for school children for the cheaper tablets, came from the declaration by Education

Cabinet Secretary Prof Jacob Kaimenyi that the State would appeal against the award of higher allowances and salaries backdated to July 1, 2013.

The court to which the State and the teachers' unions subordinated themselves to after an impasse' leading to a crippling national strike ordered Teachers Service Commission (TSC) to increase the annual allocation for teaching wage bill by 50 to 60 per cent.

It means the salary of the lowest paid teacher will rise by 15 per cent and the highest will get 12.5 per cent annually.

In a landmark ruling, the Employment and Labour Relations Court also directed that the over 280, 000 teachers will share out the increment that will be spread over four years.

To sweeten the deal, Justice Nduma Nderi directed that TSC backdates the pay rise to July 1, 2013 and the final phase of the payout be July 1, 2017.

Officials of the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) and the Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) radiated broad smiles as the scales tilted in their favour in the course of the three-hour judgement and ultimately broke into song and dance after the final verdict.

The current annual pay for teachers is Sh119 billion, which means the National Treasury, which had flatly rejected demands for a pay rise, citing a spiraling public sector recurrent expenditure, will have to factor in at least an additional Sh59.5 billion to implement the court order.

With the expected Sh238 billion increment in salaries over four years, the teachers wage bill will soar to Sh357 billion.

Nderi ruled that teachers' salaries ought to be harmonised as the lowest paid teacher (P1) earned a negative eight per cent below the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and the highest paid teacher was 48 per cent above the index. The difference between the two classes of teachers is 56 per cent.

The Labour Court principal judge ruled that a P1 teacher will get a 15 per cent pay increase and the highest paid teacher will pocket 12.5 per cent rise.

The judge said it was unfair that while other workers at TSC Secretariat earned good pay, teachers took home peanuts.

He criticised the teachers' employer, arguing it was unfair to have its core employees underpaid whereas the others were pocketing desirable pay.

The judge noted that those who were working at the Secretariat got a 94 per cent increment to cushion them from economic hardships and inflation whereas teachers only got 4 per cent in 2013.

BASIC SALARY

There were astonishing revelations on two reports filed by the Ministry of Labour's Central Planning Monitoring Unit (CPMU). One recommended a pay hike of 128 per cent to reflect the prevailing CPI.

The second one, however, contended that even the TSC's earlier offer of a pay rise of between 50 and 60 per cent was not realistic too, as it would equally raise the total Government's annual wage bill. The State argued that the teachers' pay had in any case been harmonised between 2009 and 2013.

In the documents by CPMU, the judge noted there was a section referring to pay of officers in the Secretariat including the secretaries and it compared to those of teachers in the first document, but in the second one, filed under the signature of suspended Labour Cabinet Secretary Kazungu Kambi, the section was missing.

The first document filed by CPMU proposed that teachers ought to get a salary increase of Sh137.2 billion annually but spread across four years. This amounted to a basic salary increase of 32 per cent (Sh34.3 billion) a year over the period. The figures were based on the current annual wage bill of Sh107.2 billion.

The unit however retracted the document, saying it found some grave errors that if the court admitted, then it would raise the country's wage bill. It noted that the Government had already offered Sh19 billion for all its workers including the over 270 000 teachers and the harmonisation process was to take effect today.

"CPMU gave very valuable information to this court but it was unable to justify the omissions in the second document," Nderi ruled.

The judgment is a culmination of a long running dispute that began in 1997 when the Government struck a deal with teachers to end a crippling teachers strike and which was to be implemented over 10 years.

However, in 2002, the then Minister of Labour revoked the deal, leading to a court case that reinstated the 1997 agreement. In 2009, teachers went on a go slow and another deal was brokered stipulating that they receive a pay increase spread across a three-year cycle.

This deal was revoked in 2012 without the knowledge of the unions under the instigation of the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC). SRC sent out circulars that new Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBA) ought to be in place and old ones with unions were to expire.

COUNTER OFFER

Tuesday, Nderi noted that TSC met with both Knut and Kuppet in 26 sittings from October 18, 2012 to January, this year, and nothing good came out of the sessions.

"The judgment by this court will end this dispute and bring to an end poor pay to teachers," he said.

The first unsuccessful meeting led to a strike in 2013 but a CBA agreement was struck on July 19, 2013 though there was no set timeline for negotiations. It covered an increase of basic salary, house, leave and responsibility allowances.

The court noted that TSC had not made a counter-offer in subsequent meetings but on September 9, 2014 the commission tabled a working document that proposed 50-60 per cent pay increase.

On the other hand, the unions made a counter offer of 300 per cent increase, which would translate to Sh360 billion on basic pay, Sh118 billion for house allowances, Sh36 billion for leave allowances and Sh72 billion for responsibility allowances. In total, teachers' pay would be translated to Sh725 billion if the deal would have gone through.

Afterwards, the union came down to an increase of between 100 and 150 per cent but the proposal was turned down.

TSC in its last meeting on November 17, 2014 withdrew its offer on grounds that it was bound to SRC's recommendations that it ought not to make offers that would hurt the national basket.

However, Nderi was of a contrary opinion, arguing that TSC was independent from the  Sarah Serem-led commission's say on salaries paid to teachers.

He ruled that TSC was not bound to SRC's line and it would only get advice when it is negotiating for a CBA.

The judge noted that the last time teachers' pay was reviewed was in 2009.

"TSC is mandated to provide quality education through its staff and that includes teachers. It is supposed to give the highest priority to the teachers as they are its core employees.TSC also has the mandate to review their salaries with the advice of SRC but it is not bound to those recommendations," Nderi ruled.

The orders of the court will take effect from today, meaning the two unions and TSC will have to sit and negotiate within a period of 30 days and file the agreement in court.

In the deal,the court ordered that they will also negotiate on allowances that had been proposed by unions but had not been put in place.

The unions were pushing for transfer, accommodation and night out, entertainment and mileage allowances.

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