Dispute prevention and resolution attract more attention today because they are critical for sound and productive employment relations worldwide.
Dispute resolution processes offer a collective bargaining resource to the interested parties and strengthen social partnerships. As conflict is inherent to, and inevitable in employment relationships, establishing effective dispute prevention and resolution processes is key to minimising the occurrence and consequences of workplace conflicts such as the one between Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) and the Teachers Service Commission (TSC).
In fact, it is because of such cases that International Labour Organisation (ILO) in partnership with like-minded international bodies including Unesco have put together guidelines to assist practitioners – employers, employers’ organisations and trade unions – to establish, assess and improve on dispute prevention and resolution processes.
Many countries have put in place dispute prevention and resolution systems, both inside and outside government ministries with different organisational structures and roles, but these structures and assigned roles have failed to serve the purpose they were created for.
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Of course, we have witnessed what is happening with trade unions in the health, education, transport, agriculture, local authority and the entire civil service sectors where industrial negotiations on labour and professional matters have been paralysed by employers – forgetting that the primary function of a trade union is to promote and protect the interests of its members.
ILO is assisting member States, as well as workers’ and employers’ organisations to set up or strengthen dispute prevention and resolution processes and systems, but things seem not be working out in Kenya.
A study carried out by the University of Nairobi notes that trade unions have, however, fallen short of achieving their set objectives due to external and internal challenges.
A census survey design was used, primary data was collected, and 32 out of 40 trade unions responded to the questionnaire. The results showed that there are many challenges affecting trade unions in Kenya, which include financial constraints emanating from loss of members – some of whom are forcefully dragged out from union registers; splitting of unions and mismanagement; government and employer intervention in trade union activities and attempting to control their (union) affairs; and moreover, the differentiated and changing composition of workers that has had a general effect on weakening trade unions.
The ever-growing concern by the general public, in particular, parents/guardians, government organs, Unesco, and ILO has driven Knut into deep reflection over the future of over 11,499,800 learners in public schools, whose future is uncertain because the teachers’ employer has taken a hardline stance in dealing with the labour impasse with trade unions.
Besides, 323,994 teachers on TSC payroll have been seriously affected by the ongoing row between the union and the employer, causing teachers’ performance in classrooms to plummet. Sadly, teachers don’t measure up to the employer’s expectations because of diverse reasons, including being denied promotions, upgrading, and salary increment on flimsy grounds that they are affiliated to a trade movement which is opposed to some policies generated by the employer.
In the same vein, learners are no longer receiving inclusive and equitable quality education as per Basic Education Act (2013) following the unprecedented move by the employer to partition the Public Teaching Service resulting into two parallel payrolls, and also two different sets of terms and conditions of service of teachers. One set is exclusive for Knut members where they are denied benefits of the 2017/2021 Collective Bargaining Agreement, and the other for non-Knut members, where the CBA is implemented in full.
After burning the midnight oil, Knut leadership and the entire union membership fully concur with government organs, ILO, and Unesco that the employer should climb down from their ivory tower and honour court orders, rulings and judgements. The employer should squarely face this emotive issue through dialogue and save the Kenyan child and the teacher.
The employer is obligated to embrace the Alternative Dispute Resolution Act (2019) as it provides viable means of achieving conciliation and mediation in disputes of this nature. Alternative dispute resolution process means all the steps taken in an attempt to resolve a dispute from the time the dispute is referred, must be honoured, respected and observed in its entirety.
It is the wish of all and sundry that the employer, for the sake of the Kenyan child and teacher, should revisit Article 237 of the Constitution, which established the Commission. The Article outlines the functions of the employer, and nowhere is it mentioned that teachers will be discriminated against when they choose to join unions of their choice and participate in union programmes.
To create harmony and industrial peace in the teaching sub-sector, we passionately call on the employer to respect the provisions in the Labour Relations Act (2007), which extensively discuss who qualifies to earn agency fee. Though knut qualifies, it has been denied the same while its competitors continue to pocket the fee.
Intolerance to other people’s opinion is a recipe for chaos; grandstanding is not the way forward.
The two parties have to find a common ground to resolve the labour and professional matters. Therefore, there should be constructive engagement between Knut and TSC to end the impasse.
Distorting Knut membership register to kill the union is an evil act in trade unionism and should be abandoned forthwith. We plead with TSC to swallow humble pie, come to terms with the reality of court rulings, judgements and orders, and respect the 2019 Ministry of Labour Conciliation Report, the CBA and the revered Code of Regulations for Teachers of 2015.
Mr Sossion is a nominated MP and Secretary-General, Knut