Let’s be truthful in our industrial talks if they’re to bear any fruit

Sunday March 5 2017

Striking doctors at Uhuru Park in Nairobi on February 15, 2017. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Striking doctors at Uhuru Park in Nairobi on February 15, 2017. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By DOMINIC WAMUGUNDA
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There are certain services that are central to the social security of any given society. Here I am thinking about services such as health, education and other closely related ones through which human beings are empowered.

These are services that are provided by a labour force of skilled individuals who expect to earn their living and make ends meet in the process.

It is bad commentary on any society and its management of the public sector when such service providers down their tools for a long period of time because they cannot agree with their employers on matters of remuneration.

In 2015, there was a protracted teachers’ strike. It naturally gave impetus to other public sector employees to use industrial action as a way of demanding better pay and conditions. This year is certainly not like 2015.

It is an election year and, whether one likes it or not, many Kenyans will view the ongoing doctors’ and lecturers’ strikes and any other that may come along in that light.

I have no idea whether there is any merit in looking at things that way but then this is Kenya and we know ourselves quite well. Unionists — genuine or otherwise — have a job to do and people to represent. At the same time, they do not work in a vacuum.

NEGOTIATING TABLE

They work in a political environment. The bigger question is: There are systems which many of us know through which these matters are dealt with. Were those systems put into use in good faith by those who are in the middle of all this, particularly those in charge of the public service? Take the lecturers’ strike for example.

We all knew the negotiations had started in Nakuru pretty soon after the strike was declared. We also learnt the whole process did not kick off that day because the employer had nothing to offer.

What is in the public domain is that public universities have dealt with strikes before and they have succeeded in bringing their employees to the negotiating table.

The dynamic has been that the chairman of the inter-universities negotiating committee is given an offer by the government and he or she takes it to the negotiation table.

No one gets to know what the offer is until the agreement has been signed. Now we know that an offer of Sh10 billion was given to the unions.

If I were a unionist, I would want more after I know the limit. Who gave the figure to the unions? This country is bigger than any one of us. Our gains can only be preserved if we stick to the truth and due process.

Writer is Dean of Students at the University of Nairobi [email protected]