KNUT Secretary General Wilson Sossion (right), Chairman Mudzo Nzili (center) and Treasurer Albanus Mutisya addressing the press at KNUT offices on Saturday. (Beverlyne Musili/Standard)
Learners in public schools face an extended Christmas holiday owing to a looming nationwide teachers’ strike even as they prepare for opening of schools in two week’s time.
The Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) has given the Government a one-week notice starting Monday to agree on a review of teachers’ terms and conditions of service and sign a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) as ordered by the Industrial Court.
Knut Secretary General Wilson Sossion warned that failure by the government to meet these demands, will mean no teacher will attend classes until they are paid what is duly owed to them.
The strike notice came at a time when close to 900,000 candidates who sat for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examinations in 24,000 centres this year, await the release of their results by Education Cabinet Secretary Jacob Kaimenyi tomorrow.
Early this month, Prof Kaimenyi warned teachers to stop issuing ultimatums to the Government after Knut made numerous threats for a nationwide strike if their demands for a salary increment are not met.
Speaking from Knut offices in Nairobi after a five-hour meeting by its National Executive Council that brings together officials from all the 47 counties and those from the national office, the union officials warned the government to brace itself for another strike.
“If no solution will have been found you will witness a major strike; teachers and learners should stay away from schools. We are urging the teachers to save every little coin they have because there will be a major confrontation,” said Mr Sossion at the press briefing yesterday.
He added: “It is unfortunate that it takes the solidarity of industrial action to protect benefits that teachers have received. No primary and secondary schools and tertiary schools will be opened come January.”
Knut chairman Mudzo Nzili also called on parents and students not to report to school in January unless their employer resolves issues raised by the teachers by then.
He also criticised Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) chairperson Sarah Serem and asked her to stop interfering with their negotiations with the Teachers Service Commission (TSC).
“Serem is blocking us from talking with our employer and we are asking her to step aside,” said Mr Nzili.
He said they were prepared for a confrontation with the government, including being arrested and charged in court.
“If you plan to arrest us we will not run. If you plan to take us to court we are ready. We are ready to deal with you,” Nzili said.
Sossion said they had been driven to this action by the government’s lack of commitment to hold meaningful talks after the union postponed a cancelled a previous strike notice in good faith to allow students to sit for the end of year exams. He also pointed out that the SRC circular proposing the review of several allowances was in bad faith.
“You cannot purport to take away employees’ hard fought for benefits and agreed between the employer and employee by a circular,” said Sossion, adding that SRC was secretly increasing the house allowances of senior government officials by up to Sh200,000 while reducing allowances for those he termed as the “common man”.
In June 2014, Knut announced a countrywide teachers strike, defying calls for dialogue by President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto. However, the strike did not take off and in late August the union agreed to talks with the government on condition they receive a letter from TSC with timelines and dates for the negotiations.
Sossion was quoted by sections of the press as saying: “Let them commit themselves in writing and we’ll respond appropriately. The commission should put concrete offers on the table and commit itself to concluding the talks within 21 days.”
Some of the benefits they were agitating for included commuter and housing allowances as well as what they called township allowance which is meant to cushion teachers working in select urban areas.
Knut has met with TSC on numerous occasions to discuss their pay only for the talks to flop. In November the talks collapsed after TSC insisted that an increase in basic salary was only possible following a job evaluation.
The evaluation, which was to be undertaken by the Public Service Commission (PSC), was designed to take eight months before any meaningful consultative talks on increments on the basic pay could take place.
In November, National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich dashed the hopes of a pay increment after he wrote to the Education ministry and TSC, warning that additional funds would not be set aside to cater for a pay increase in the current financial year ending June 2015.
Three weeks ago, Prof Kaimenyi told the Knut’s delegates at Kasarani that they should be patient. However, Sossion responded that teachers had been patient enough and had showed their goodwill by attending more than 20 meetings to hammer out a pay deal. The teachers were asked to prepare for a strike next month if no deal was forthcoming.
“There is justification for teachers to ask us to allow them to withdraw their labour. We were on strike last year and when it ended it was agreed that a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) was to be signed in 90 days but that has never happened to date,” Sossion said.
He added that the government had not made any effort to table any offer for the teachers even after 26 meetings were held to hammer out a deal.
“We had asked for 300 per cent salary increase. The government said they would offer us between 50 to 60 per cent and then ended up withdrawing that offer. We have now washed our hands of the matter,” Sossion added.
A rival teachers union, Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet), has also previously locked horns with the government over their salaries.
During its annual delegates conference earlier in the month, Kuppet said that it was giving the government up to December 31 to meet their demands or face a nationwide strike.