Astronomic demand by the two teacher unions in Kenya for a 300 percent in their basic pay has forced students to stay at home two weeks into the first term, causing parents anxious moments.
All attempts to resolve the pay dispute, including intervention by Catholic Bishops, have fallen by the way side, even though agreement had already been reached on 35 different allowances.
Led by Bishop Maurice Crowley, who is in charge of education at the Catholic Church, the bishops had hosted union leaders at Waumini House in Nairobi Monday in the hope of ending the industrial dispute, which has affected public schools countrywide.
The talks stalled after the union leaders walked out of the meeting about 10 minutes into the meeting.
Teachers went on strike on Monday last week, claiming their pay talks with the Teachers Service Commission, which started last year, had stalled.
The Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) and the Kenya Union of Post-Primary Education Teachers (KUPPET) are demanding a 300 per cent pay raise in addition to 35 other allowances.
Members of Parliament also stepped in and asked the teachers and the government to reach a deal in the interest of Kenya’s children.
The National Assembly education committee, chaired by Ms Sabina Chege, resolved to petition the Speaker of the National Assembly to recall the House to discuss the matter if the teachers and government will not have struck a deal immediately.
“We are calling upon the Salaries and Remuneration Commission, teachers and the government to give dialogue a chance and resolve this matter,” said Ms Chege, the woman representative for Murang’a County.
She said that the Constitution guarantees Kenyan children a right to education and it is unfair for them to stay at home just because the government and teachers have failed to agree.
“We hope the government will come with an offer so that the strike does not extend only for them to come up with an offer when it is too late,” she said, and appealed to teachers to be realistic in their demands.
The House is scheduled to resume sittings on February 10.
Though the government has agreed to harmonize teachers’ allowances to match those of other public officers, the National Treasury has said there is no money to pay the salaries because the expenditure had not been considered as part of the Budget for the current financial year, which ends in June.
As the dispute drags on, parents of children in public schools now hang their hope on High Court-driven negotiations to end the strike.
The Industrial Court is today (Wednesday, Jan. 14) engaging the main players in education to find a way out of the strike.
The court last week undertook to arbitrate in the matter after the Teachers Service Commission went to court seeking orders to declare the strike illegal, and Judge Nduma Nderi declined to grant orders stopping the strike.
“I need all the officials from the TSC, KNUT and KUPPET to help come up with an amicable solution that will see children resume school soonest possible,” he said. Representatives from the Salaries and Remuneration Commission will also attend the talks.
Saying that the TSC, KNUT and KUPPET had already resolved 37 issues mainly touching on teachers’ allowances, Justice Nderi noted that what remained contentious was a demand for an increase in teachers’ basic pay.
KNUT insists that such an increase is an “important part of its collective bargaining agreement with TSC”, which is in court under a certificate of urgency, seeking to have the unions end the strike.