Burden now on Government to avert teachers’ strike

Parents with children in public schools are a disappointed lot after learning that their children’s institutions may remain closed after the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) gave the government a one-week notice, starting today in the long-running tussle about teachers’ pay.

Recall that other strikes, threats and dialogue had taken place over the same issue with each party waiting for the other to blink first.

The teachers’ union wants the State to review its members’ terms and conditions of service and sign a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) to which the Industrial Court has acceded.

Knut Secretary General Wilson Sossion says the union cancelled the previous strike notice in good faith to allow students to sit for the end of year exams, but Education Cabinet Secretary Jacob Kaimenyi has warned teachers to stop issuing ultimatums to the government.

For generations the ability to strike and disrupt the employer was the essence of unionism. Workers secured real wage gains, pensions, and employer-paid health care through hard-nosed collective bargaining backed by workplace-based solidarity and strikes.

Teachers’ strike has now become a norm that each successive government has to contend with. In fact, it would not be easy to keep count of all the past strikes, but for there to have been some kind of stay of action after the last strike action, it is likely the parties involved reached some form of compromise.

But judging from the ultimatums, threats and hard talk, someone is not keeping their side of the bargain.

The question is who could it be?

The answer to this question is important, but it is more urgent to find a solution to the current impasse and guarantee students a smooth first term in schools and tertiary institutions. It is unhealthy for the education system to live on the precipice of strike actions and there is need to sort the issue of teachers’ perks.

In fact, it is time that the government tackled the incessant crisis of teachers’ pay and allowances by honouring every agreement it has entered before with the teachers.

The current ‘threats and intimidation’ approach by both parties towards each other’s demands certainly would not resolve the situation in the education sector.

We call on all the parties to honour the agreements reached in order to alleviate the unnecessary and untoward hardship that parents, teachers and other stakeholders are made to face every time there is strike.

It is regrettable that strike has become a recurring decimal in the negotiation for teachers’ pay, but the situation should not be allowed to fester.

But we are not only talking about teachers. Industrial action has become a ping-pong ball in crucial sectors of the economy and it is common to hear unions using it as a tool to seek redress for better deals for members.

Those who prefer this method in dispute resolution argue that it is the only language that the State responds to. This is what doctors and healthcare workers who are also preparing to issue their own strike notice say.

Perhaps the government needs to stop waiting for breakdown in these sectors before solutions are sought or discussions initiated because retroactive responses only lead to loss of lives and waste of resources.

The country has been in this situation before. We know how things often work out when teachers and the government get involved in such scenarios, but the overarching quest should be to halt these strikes and threats and let our children learn in peace. Nobody enjoys learning in uncertainty and both teachers and the State ought to reach an amicable solution for the sake of learners.