The four week long teachers’ strike ended in a stalemate as the Executive remained adamant that the 50-60 per cent pay increment teachers were demanding for could not be met. The strike had significantly affected learners in public schools more so those preparing for their final examinations – KCSE and KCPE. The Employment and Labour relations court stepped in and ordered teachers to suspend the strike and return to class as arbitration was pursued.
Though, this teachers strike has been the longest in Kenya’s history, it is just but one in a recent spate of industrial unrest that the civil service has faced. The health sector has been severely affected by strikes too. Doctors and nurses are likely to go on strike in October also over pay issues and Parliament’s refusal to take up their proposal on the re-structuring of the health sector.
Over the last 30 months, Kenyan doctors and nurses have been on sporadic strikes in various counties. In fact, presently the Kenya National Union of Nurses is in talks with the Nairobi County Government over the same. This April, anti-stock theft police officers were also allegedly on a go-slow protesting withheld operational allowances amounting to Ksh 4.5 million. The common thread at the center of most of the strikes has included: poor pay, discrimination, salary delays and poor working conditions.
In a public address to the nation, President Kenyatta stated that paying the teachers will disrupt harmonization of the public service that is in progress. He also argued that the current state of the economy make the increment unsustainable. However, a substantive argument from the Parliament’s Budget Office (PBO) said that Government can afford to increase the wages and end perennial industrial strikes if it cuts down on wasteful spending. The report states that this includes all strikes by public officials. The report titled “MPs budget watch 2015-16: Value for money,” further calls for efforts to ensure that Kenya Revenue Authority collects more in taxes so as to handle the increasing financial demands.
Going by the PBO’s report, teachers, doctors and nurses need to be accorded their due significance given their contribution to the economy. They should be paid something, even if not what the court declared. Government should show leadership and respect court orders by whenever issued.
On the short to medium term, government should negotiate with all the public servants unions. Satisfied public servants are essential to good service delivery to alleviate sufferings of majority of Kenyans dependent on public schools and health system respectively. As government seeks to check the public wage bill, performance contracts need to be introduced to check the marked watering down of the education and health systems.
In labour relations, strikes are pursued as a measure of last result. Would you say majority of our teachers, doctors and nurses serve Kenyans out of passion or just seek short term gain? Are you satisfied with the quality of education in public schools and the public health system? Beyond salary increments, what measures should be introduced to improve the education and health systems?