Kenyan varsities may close as strike talks collapse - Daily Nation

Kenyan varsities may close as strike talks collapse

Thursday November 10 2011

By BENJAMIN MUINDI ([email protected])

A meeting convened by Prime Minister Raila Odinga in a bid to resolve the strike by public universities staff on Thursday evening ended in a stalemate, amidst indications that students could be sent home unless teaching resumed.

A source at the meeting attended by vice-chancellors and workers’ representatives revealed that the striking lecturers were told there was no money to meet their wage demands at this time.

They were also reminded that Kenya is at war with Al-Shabaab extremists in neighbouring Somalia and urged to demonstrate patriotism.

The meeting was attended by Higher Education Minister Margaret Kamar, assistant minister Kilemi Mwiria and permanent secretary Crispus Kiamba.

The permanent secretary in the Ministry of Finance Joseph Kinyua also attended, as did the PS in the PM’s officer, Mr Mohamed Isahakia.

As the meeting ended in the evening, there were indications of a split in the union ranks.

The Nation learnt that top officials of the Universities Academic Staff Union (Uasu), secretary-general Muga K’Olale and chairman Sammy Kubasu, were not at the meeting.

Mr K’Olale said he was not aware of and had not been invited, accusing the government of mischief in the way it was conducting negotiations.

The union was represented by vice-chairman Mutura Mberia, deputy treasurer Mohammed Mwachichi, and Mr Moses Muchina of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology branch.

The industrial action is spearheaded by Uasu, but also includes administrative and support staff represented by the Universities Non-Teaching Staff Union (Untesu) and the Kenya Union of Domestic Hotels, Educational Institutions, Hospitals and Allied Workers Union (Kudhehia).

Uasu is seeking implementation of a new structure that will double the basic pay of lecturers and improve their allowances. (READ: Strike cripples varsity exams and graduation)

It proposes to raise the pay of a professor to a maximum of Sh400,000, up from the current 165,000 a month, and a new house allowance of Sh95,000 up from Sh64,000.

An associate professor’s salary would rise to Sh298,000, moving from Sh135,000 and a house allowance of Sh85,000 against Sh58,000.

A senior lecturer would earn Sh221,000 and a house allowance of Sh75,000, lecturer Sh165,000 and a house allowance of Sh70,000 and an assistant lecturer Sh121,000 plus Sh55,000 for housing.

Similarly, pay of a graduate assistant lecturer — the lowest paid — should rise to Sh78,000 and Sh45,000 for housing from the current Sh40,000 and Sh30,000 for housing, a month.

Have other benefits

The lecturers also have other benefits such as medical insurance, leave, and book allowances, which varies from one university to another.

According to Mr K’Olale, their proposal is aimed at harmonising the pay of lecturers with those of their peers in the public service. (READ: It’s no easy walk to freedom for K’Olale)

He gave the example of a dean of Faculty of Law, who earned a third of a High Court judge’s salary, yet they should be peers.

He said they want to “eliminate discrimination that is making university teaching non-attractive”.

Their proposals are contained in a document presented to the Inter-Public University Councils Consultative Forum, which is the platform for their negotiations.

The last time public university teaching staff got a salary increase was in June 2009, negotiated through a collective bargaining agreement that covered the years 2008 to 2010.

After that, they were to start fresh negotiations for 2010-2012 agreement, but this stalled and efforts to revive the talks never materialised, leading to the strike.

The government never gave any counter-proposal. In the last agreement, the lecturers were awarded a 15 per cent increase in basic salaries and 7.5 per cent in house allowances.

Uasu represents some 7,000 lecturers in seven public universities and 15 constituent colleges. Collectively, the universities have about 200,000 students, including those in parallel degree programmes.

Untesu represents administrative staff, registrars, librarians, catering officers, technicians, finance, audit, and accounts staff, among others. It has 6,000 members.

The highest paid among them is the registrar who earns a basic salary of Sh105,000 and the lowest, Sh15, 000.

House allowance

They also enjoy a house allowance of Sh60,000 for the highest, and Sh17,000 for the lowest.

Untesu’s secretary-general Charles Mukhwaya said they are also demanding that their salaries be harmonised with their peers in the Civil Service.

“We are demanding that salary harmonisation be done in line with the government pay policy,” Dr Mukhwaya said.

Kudhehia secretary-general Njeru Albert said the union has a membership of about 7,000 made up of cleaners, clerks, secretaries, and office assistants.

The highest paid has a basic of Sh20,000 while the lowest paid earns Sh7,000, without other allowances.

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