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Government in tight spot as strikes spread

SPECIAL REPORTS
By - Stephen Makabila | September 8th 2012

By Stephen Makabila

The on-going industrial actions in the education and health sectors put the Government in an awkward position. State is caught in a tight-position as it strives to impress workers in all sectors, including those who are not on strike.

Government’s dilemma stems from the fact that a move to increase salary for striking workers in one sector may ignite strikes in other sectors.

It all started with the teachers strike. The boycott by the 278,000 teachers on the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) payroll has crippled the education sector.

From teachers, the infectious bug spread to doctors at Kenyatta National Hospital and university lecturers, who downed tools two days ago.

In the latest strike by teachers, top three demands include a 300 per cent basic pay increment, honouring of legal notice number 534 of 1997 and payment of responsibility allowances for head-teachers and heads of departments.

When the labour unrest kicked-off late last year, Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE) cautioned the Government to brace for more unrest in labour market as the General Election approaches. And with elections only six months away, the situation has started getting worse, as more and more sectors are drawn into the labour unrest wave.

In its warning, FKE indicated the turbulence in industrial relations would most likely persist due to distress in the economy and political climate as politicians initiate populist actions to appease voters.

FKE Executive Director Jacqueline Mugo said politicians were likely to engage in “kneejerk” reactions to appease electorates. This, she said, would worsen the economy already overwhelmed by high prices and interest rates. Strikes by Knut date back to pre-independence days, when the union in 1962 organised its first industrial action. By independence, teachers had downed tools thrice.

After independence, teachers first downed tools in October 1965, followed by another strike a year later to push for a single employer of teachers. The November 1966 strike saw the Government establish TSC, through a Bill tabled in Parliament by the then Minister for Education Jeremiah Nyagah.

Three years later, another strike saw Government compelled to implement several recommendations of the Teachers Service Remuneration Committee, which had earlier been reached between TSC and Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut).

From 1967, there was a three-decade lull until teachers went on another strike in October 1997 demanding a 300 per cent pay rise, exactly what they are demanding today. Then, the man at the helm of Knut was the fiery Ambrose Adongo.  In October 1998, teachers were on the streets again, protesting Government refusal to implement pay rises awarded by a presidential committee the previous year.

Another strike followed in October 2002 for 28 days to demand an outstanding salary increment awarded in 1997. Come January 2009, teachers went on strike again demanding a lump sum payment amounting to Sh19 billion.

Last September, there was also a strike staged by the union over inadequate staffing, partly caused by increased enrolment since the introduction of free primary education in 2003.

The strike was called-off after teachers signed a deal with the Government to employ 23,000 teachers.

Under the agreement, all the 18,000 teachers that were then working on contract were to be converted to permanent and pensionable staffers. Another 5,000 teachers were to be employed in January.

The figure was, however, less 5,000 teachers from the 28,060 demanded by Knut.

Government attempts to convince teachers’ unions to call off the on-going strike have so far not been successful. Kenya Union of Post-Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) is demanding a 100 per cent salary increment for secondary school teachers and harmonisation of their pay with those of civil servants. Knut, on the other hand, wants a 300 per cent salary increment for its members and full implementation of 1997 legal notice that widely commits the Government to factor in various allowances. Payment of all the allowances agreed under the 1997 agreement would require Sh2.4 billion, and an additional Sh1.12 billion monthly to harmonise teachers’ pay with those of civil servants.

There had been hope in day one of the talks between union officials and Labour minister John Munyes. But on day two of talks to end the crippling strike, representatives of the Treasury were absent.

Unionist led by Knut national chairman Wilson Sossion have, however, maintained the Ministry of Education and Treasury officials have to be involved for any deal to be struck.

“We cannot negotiate when the mother ministry and the Finance ministry are not represented. We want full Government representation for genuine, sincere and open negotiations,” Sossion told The Standard On Saturday.

But amid the back-and-forth talks, TSC has told head teachers in a circular that their presence in schools is compulsory to ensure the safety of students and protect property.

 

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