The government has entrenched its position on the ongoing teachers’ strike and accused union representatives of favouring a settlement that protects payments of fees to unions.
The Sunday Nation exclusively obtained details of a high-level strategy and review meeting attended by top government officials at the Office of the President on Friday afternoon as the strike enters its second week tomorrow. Teachers went on strike last Monday after talks between their unions and the government on higher pay failed, paralysing learning in public schools.
In the Friday meeting, government officials, who included cabinet secretaries, raised concern that Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) officials prefer a salary increment to boost the fees they receive from members as opposed to a rise in allowances.
This, they said, could be why Knut has suggested in negotiation meetings that the allowances amounting to Sh9.3 billion offered by the government should be converted to salary increment.
The meeting which was attended by Cabinet secretaries Jacob Kaimenyi (Education), Kazungu Kambi (Labour), Henry Rotich (Treasury), the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) chairperson Lydia Nzomo, the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) chairperson Sarah Serem argued that Knut had a selfish interest in the salary-based settlement because it will increase the Sh120 million deducted from teachers monthly.
“Knut as a union and its officials will not benefit from an allowance-based settlement. They derive their two per cent union fees from every teacher’s salary per month and that is why they prefer a salary-based settlement because their monthly income will also go up,” Prof Kaimenyi told the Sunday Nation.
He added: “This is not about teachers but their personal interests. Some of them (union officials) are taking home Sh1.2 million each as salaries every month,” said Prof Kaimenyi, adding that teachers’ welfare would have been taken care of in the offer proposed by the government.
The proceedings of the meeting seemed to view the Kenya Union of Post-Primary Teachers (Kuppet) more favourably even though its members also rejected the government pay offer. Justice Nduma Nderi has summoned TSC, Knut and Kuppet to court on Wednesday to find a lasting solution to the teachers’ strike.
Last weekend talks between TSC and the unions collapsed after Knut failed to turn up while Kuppet rejected the offer tabled. Attempts by Labour CS to craft a deal last Tuesday also failed. The government offered the unions a package worth Sh9.3 billion in settlement of their claims relating to house allowance, hardship allowance and leave allowance.
TSC, Kuppet and Knut yesterday said they are ready to appear in court on Wednesday as directed.
TSC Secretary Gabriel Lengoiboni told the Sunday Nation that the Wednesday meeting will decide the next course of action.
Knut secretary general Wilson Sossion reiterated that teachers will not relent in pushing for their demands adding that Kuppet and Knut will from tomorrow work together.
“Our lawyers will approach this issue jointly so that we are able to get what we have been fighting for,” said Mr Sossion.
Prof Kaimenyi said that with the guidance of SRC, they have agreed on 38 out of 39 issues tabled by Knut, which are mainly allowances.
“We consulted with SRC and it is only the salary component that is not there. Salaries of public servants have been harmonised and SRC has said we should wait for job evaluation to increase the salaries which will be based on objectivity and not ad hoc,” he said adding that long-standing pay disputes were for the first time being addressed comprehensively.
However, Mr Sossion denied any selfish motive and said teachers were insisting on basic salary because it is a major component of any collective bargaining agreement (CBA).
“Basic pay is important because the pension of those who will retire will be based on basic pay. Those who want mortgage and car loans will also get it on strong basic salary,” he said, adding that the advantages would also be felt by those seeking loans in co-operative societies.
Mr Sossion said there is nothing wrong with the union getting more dues from its members based on basic pay saying that it is in law and the money is used to strengthen the union at national and grassroots level, not for personal benefit.
“Revenue to the union is not stolen money as it is gazetted by the Labour cabinet secretary and recognised by the Labour Relation Act and the International Labour Organisation,” said Mr Sossion.
Dr Nzomo, the TSC chairperson, told the Sunday Nation that the teachers’ employer was still open to discussion but Knut and Kuppet must climb down because their demands were 80 per cent of the total national budget.
“We pay Sh170 billion as teachers’ salary annually. We have added Sh9.3 billion in allowances. Some of the allowances are new while others have been enhanced or even doubled. We believe that this is a better deal than salary-based agreement which is being pushed by Knut and Kuppet,” says Dr Nzomo.
Prof Kaimenyi and Dr Nzomo said that what the unions were demanding amounted to almost Sh1.4 trillion, which the government cannot afford.
“Kuppet alone wants Sh626 billion while Knut wants Sh575 billion. This is 80 per cent of the total revenue. It is not sustainable. However, we have not closed the salaries negotiations but we are asking them to wait for the job evaluation which comes in eight months,” said Prof Kaimenyi.
Mrs Serem, the SRC chairperson, said it is unfair for the unions to start attacking SRC directly instead of dealing with TSC, which is their employer. She said their duty was to guide TSC to ensure that the public wage bill is sustainable.
“We dealt with the employer to ensure that whatever is given fits into the constitutional framework that the total wage bill is sustainable — that is our main concern. So we advise TSC to operate within the parameters,” said Mrs Serem.
She said that TSC and Knut have never had a collective bargaining agreement which forms the basis of their negotiations but a circular on return to work formulae.
Meanwhile, the Majority Leader in the National Assembly Aden Duale has suggested the devolution of primary and secondary education into county governments to end recurrent teachers’ strike.
The Garissa Town MP said there are shortcomings and needs in education in terms of performance, infrastructure and teachers scarcity noting that every county will have to deal and try to solve their weakness and also give better package to teachers.
Primary and secondary education are under the national government while counties have a limited role in early childhood education.