President rules out salary rise, as State mulls taming unions

President Uhuru Kenyatta last evening maintained that the government cannot afford the demands by teachers for the new pay hike as he called for sobriety and dialogue to end the strike that derailed learning in public schools.

Ruling out the possibilities of implementing the 50-60 per cent pay rise as directed by the industrial court, the President said the award would require the government to find an additional Sh118 billion to meet the salary and pension obligations. This is in addition to the current Sh174 billion pay allocated teachers this financial year.

If implemented, the president said, the new award would stifle development, curtail employment opportunities and increase the cost of living for majority of Kenyans. As the President maintained a seemingly hardline stance, the People Daily reliably learnt the State is exploring ways to emasculate the two giant teachers unions as part of a scheme to restore order in the restless education sector beset by recurrent strikes.

It is understood the Ministry of Education is preparing amendments to the Teachers Service Commission Act to stop the government from remitting teachers’ contributions to both Knut and Kuppet. Also on the cards as part of the crackdown against industrial unrest, is a move to put teachers under contract performance.

Uhuru in his live address to the nation from State House, Nairobi, said the new pay rise demand was untenable and would distort public pay structure. “Another reason for the appeal was the advice of the Treasury that paying the award in the amount requested would seriously distort our public finances and hurt our economy.”

“The fact of the matter is that to pay this award, we would have to raise VAT from 16 to 22 per cent, or borrow more money or suspend critical development programmes and essential services in health, in education and in security sectors. Raising taxes, borrowing more money or cutting back on development programmes will raise the cost of living, slow down our economy and increase unemployment and poverty.

None of these options is tenable. Our country must live within its means,” he said. The President said Kenyan teachers are better remunerated than their counterparts in the continent save for counterparts in Morocco and South Africa. The lowest paid teacher in Kenya, who goes home with Sh23,000 a month, earns seven times as much as his counterpart in Burundi, while in Uganda and Tanzania the lowest get Sh7,600 and Sh15,000 respectively.

And arising from the 1997 pay award that gave teachers 150-200 per cent rise, a P1 teacher who earned a gross salary of Sh7,762 then now earns a minimum of Sh23,692, while the highest paid teacher who took home Sh35,886 then, now earns a minimum of Sh140,089. The government appeared set for a bare-knuckle approach to the crisis as leaders, among them former President Moi (see separate story) and the head of Catholic church John Cardinal Njue called for dialogue between the teachers and the State.

Njue, speaking in Embu, criticised the government decision to close all schools and called for dialogue to sort out the crisis. “We had a meeting with the President and TSC and there was no mention about the closure of schools. This came as a great surprise to us. It is important that a matter of such magnitude all the cards are played on the table.

There appears to be much more than meet the eye.” In his address, the President told teachers to be realistic in their demands and consider the interests of the Kenyan child and the economy. “All public and state officers, myself included, number 680,000, just about 1.5 per cent of the entire population. It is important to point out that of the Sh1.1 trillion collected in revenues last year, Sh568 billion went to pay our wages, meaning that 1.5 per cent of us consumed 52 per cent of our revenues.

Our debt, our maintenance, and our essential public services must be paid for out of the remaining 48 per cent . If the award were paid to teachers, the SRC would be forced to harmonise wages across the entire public sector. Based on last year’s tax revenue, our wage bill would rise from 52 per cent of to 61 per cent revenue collected,” said the head of state .

Meanwhile, private schools are divided following Friday’s order to send children home over the ongoing strike. While some have already closed, many others have vowed to remain open, heeding advice from the Kenya Private Schools Association. The association’s chairman Ernest Wangai said the government has no mandate to order closure of private schools because their teachers are not on strike.

He said the government should have consulted the private school heads before taking the unilateral decision as some of them have loans to pay. But according to TSC officials under the planned crackdown, the government wants the unions to be deducting the teachers’ contributions on their own as opposed to the current formulae where they depend on the government.

Currently the government deducts two per cent from every teacher’s salary and remits it to the unions, a move that sees Knut collecting close to Sh1.6 billion and Kuppet Sh820 million within the same period. The government, said the officials, is determined to ensure they discipline the unions in such a way that they would not be calling for strikes every year.

The amendments being prepared by the ministry are expected to be introduced to the National Assembly for debate by Leader of Majority Aden Duale once the House reconvenes. Duale is at the moment out of the country. Apart from this, the government is also contemplating making teachers sign performance contracts as well as signing a new code of conduct that will require them to pledge not take part in any strike and also possibly quit the unions upon agreeing to go back to school.

Sources within the government said the new approach is because the government is concerned that it has been funding the two unions millions of shillings only for them to destabilize the country. “When you look at it critically, the government remits to the unions at least two percent from every teacher, which is a lot of money that is not being put to proper use.

The unions are just using it to destabilise the country.” The new tactics came on the day that it was understood that a team of officers had been told to work throughout the weakened to verify the number of teachers who have been working since the strike started.  According to officials from the Ministry, this is in meant to ensure that only teachers who were teaching will get this month’s pay.

And while the government is struggling to deal with the ongoing strike, in parliament Budalang’i MP Ababu Namwamba is preparing to file a motion seeking to reduce the salaries for MPs as well other public officers, including Uhuru and his deputy William Ruto to lower the wage bill and pay the teachers.

The action by the government came even as Kuppet dismissed the new government tactics, terming them simplistic, cheap and something that is not anchored in law. Secretary General Akello Misori said there is no way the government could use the Labour Relations Act selectively such that it collects money for certain unions and declines to do so for others.

The move by the government comes just two days after the ministry on Friday announced the closure of all schools. According to the directive by Education Cabinet Secretary Jacob Kaimenyi, all schools should remain closed from today. The directive, however, affects learners in Class 1 to 7 and those in Form One to Form three, with the candidates expected to remain in school.