To Mr Douglas Ogolla, a human resource management consultant and lecturer, the on-going strikes by teachers, lecturers, and trainee doctors in public service are a big sign that the government is doing poorly in the management of its employees.
To him, public service administrators have ignored some of the most basic yet important tenets of human resources management (HR).
Many are stuck in the past with authoritarian style of management, which doesn’t help much where workers have rights protecting them and are so aware.
On September 3, teachers in public schools went on strike demanding a 300 per cent pay increment that the government had failed to honour in line with a collective bargaining agreement signed in 1997.
A few days later, public university lecturers also withdrew their services, demanding better terms, including a 200 per cent salary increase.
Earlier, about 400 trainee doctors in two referral hospitals had downed their tools to push for monthly allowances of more than Sh90,000.
In response, the minister responsible had sent them home. This attracted the ire of doctors, who then gave notice to go on strike from Thursday, September 13.
With whispers of intentions for more strikes going around, the crisis could just deepen.
While there could be short term ways of addressing the present crisis, long term solutions are desirable, hence Mr Ogolla’s suggestion for the institution of sound human resource management in civil service.
“Ministers should stop being dictatorial,” he advises.
Ogolla suggests that a lot can be prevented with the proper laying down of the terms of service, which should also anticipate occasional conflict and therefore ways of resolving them. These, he adds, should be supported by progressive HR policies.
Salary disparities are an obvious source of conflict and shouldn’t be allowed to thrive.
According to Mr Ogolla, it does seem like there is also need for policies in civil service that should encourage close interaction between heads of ministries and sections, and the employees.
That way, a continuous relaying of grievances and their resolutions can be sustained without tempers flaring.
These views tie in with those of the secretary-general of the Union of Kenya Civil Servants, Mr Tom Ondege. The trade unionist argues that often, strikes by civil servants are a result of communication breakdown and a lack of commitment on the part of the employer.
“The government should work on proper and timely communication,” says Mr Odege.
Advocate of the High Court Dann Mwangi, a lawyer specialising in constitutional matters, differs with the striking teachers to some extent.
In his view, as much as “the constitution gives aggrieved workers consent to strike”, they should also obey the law.
He says: “...If the Industrial Court has blocked the strike, then the best teachers should do is to obey the law.”
He says so in reference to a court order issued just before the start of the strike by teachers, declaring their intention illegal.
Teachers ignored it and true to their threat, they have failed to report to the more than 30,000 public primary and secondary schools country-wide since September 3.
According to Odege, the court order notwithstanding, the right for a bargaining agreement wasn’t withdrawn from the constitution. The government, he says, should adhere to agreements they have with trade unions and not wake up one day and say they do not have money.
“We strike because the government fails to tell us the situation they are in. They keep quiet until a month or days to honouring of a particular agreement and that is when they realise they do not have money,” he complains.
Many strikes by public servants, especially teachers, take place months before the general election or a few weeks to national examinations. This way the aggrieved parties feel that their needs will be looked into, as they command large votes.
“It is the only language the government seems to understand,” Mr Odege declares.