On the Teachers Strike: Of threats and mixed messages

Posted by on 2nd July 2013

Categories:   Uncategorized

For the last week teachers have been striking over pay and work conditions. More specifically an agreement between the government and teachers over pay; an agreement which according to the teachers unions has been outstanding since 1997! And which successive governments have failed to honour.

Yesterday the industrial court ruled that the striking teachers should return to work immediately. Following the order of the courts the Attorney General issued a warning that the striking teachers could face either jail terms or fines if they fail to return to the class room. The Attorney General is quoted as advising “the leaders of the teachers unions, the individual teachers themselves and the general public that the disobedience of court orders -contempt of court – is a grave offence under Kenyan law punishable by both a jail term and the imposition of a monetary penalty”

This warning comes on the heels of an earlier statement made bythe Cabinet Secretary for Education, Jacob Kaimenyi, who stated that the government would withhold the pay of teachers if they continued with the industrial action.

This message seems incongruent with the messaging by the President and Vice President, who seem to be advocating a dialogue between the teachers unions and the government:

An article in the Nation quotes the President as stating, “I have today (Friday) directed the Cabinet Secretary Education, Science and Technology, and the Teachers Service Commission in consultation with the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) to immediately engage the Kenya National Union of Teachers and Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers to discuss any outstanding issues.”

This statement was reiterated by the Vice President this week, the Vice President is quoted as stating that “The government directs the Ministry of Labour to convene an urgent meeting of the SRC, the TSC Consultative Committee on the Terms and Conditions of Service of Registered Teachers and the two unions, KNUT and KUPPET to formulate a framework for negotiation. This framework will incorporate all outstanding issues.”

So on one hand there’s the message that the government is willing to negotiate with the teachers union over the remuneration issues, on the other there are the threats issued by top ranking officials from the same government. As a point of information threats may not be the best from negotiation.

The dilemma for the teachers is, on one hand the threat of jail terms, fines and withheld salaries and on the other going to back to class to knowing that successive governments have failed to honour promises to better remunerate teachers. So much so that teachers strikes over pay seem part and parcel of public school education.

So apart from the fact that the teachers have little or no incentive to end the strike, because of failure by successive governments to honour the pay agreement, the, “there is no money to remunerate teachers,” may not work, because just recently members of the National Assembly almost doubled their salaries.

What is your take on the teachers strike?