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MPs fail to end teachers' strike

Wednesday September 12 2012

The chairman of the House Committee on Education David Koech. Public schools will remain closed for the ninth day September 12, 2012 after Parliament failed to unlock the stalemate between the government and the teachers' unions.

The chairman of the House Committee on Education David Koech. Public schools will remain closed for the ninth day September 12, 2012 after Parliament failed to unlock the stalemate between the government and the teachers' unions. FILE/NATION MEDIA GROUP

By BENJAMIN MUINDI

Public schools will remain closed for the ninth day Wednesday after Parliament failed to unlock the stalemate between the government and the teachers' unions.

The House Committee on Education is expected to meet Finance minister Njeru Githae in the second round of talks between Parliament and various government agencies to find a solution to the strike that has paralysed learning countrywide.

On Tuesday, the Committee directed that the dispute be handled by the Committee on Delegated Legislation but there was no indication how long it would take to resolve the matter.

This came as top national schools Alliance and Lenana closed as the effects of the countrywide strike by the teachers continued to be felt far and wide during the eight day of the work boycott.
Traditionally, the top national schools do not close during strikes.

The Parliamentary committee also recommended that cases of the striking teachers who have been arrested be terminated immediately and that no disciplinary action should be taken against the teachers.

The committee enlisted ministers Mutula Kilonzo (Education), Margaret Kamar (Higher Education), John Munyes (Labour) and representatives from the Public Service to negotiate with teachers and lecturers' unions.

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Mr Githae failed to attend the meetings and is scheduled to meet the team Wednesday.

Shed light

The minister is expected to shed light on the financial implications of the demands by the teachers.

So far, talks that started last week have narrowed the teachers' demands and now the centre of dispute is the provision of six different allowances.

Both the government and the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) have previously agreed on a plan to harmonise the salaries of the teachers with those of other civil servants.

Other demands by the Knut such as the increase of their salaries by 300 per cent have been referred to the Teachers’ Salaries and Remuneration Committee, for negotiation when that committee becomes operational under the newly enacted Teachers Service Commission Act.

“After listening to both the government and the teachers' unions we refer this dispute to the Delegated Legislation Committee to investigate the matter and come up with a way forward to end the teachers strike,” chairman of the Education committee David Koech said.

Under the 1997 agreement between the teachers and government, the teachers were supposed to enjoy house allowance pegged at 50 per cent of their basic pay, medical allowance (20pc), responsibility (45pc), special (10pc), hardship (30pc) and automatic commuter (10pc).

The government argues that it cannot honour the pledges and said that a legal notice of 2003 deleted provisions of the allowances for the teachers, leaving them with only hardship and special schools allowances.

Legally binding

But according to the Solicitor General Wanjuki Muchemi, both notices (of 1997 and 2003) are legally binding and therefore needed to be interpreted and a way forward determined.

“The strike still stands,” Knut chairman Wilson Sossion said on Tuesday soon after the Mr Githae failed to show up at the committee hearings where he was to shed light on how much the government could afford to pay the striking teachers.

Mr Kilonzo said that he has requested the Cabinet to provide Sh13.4 billion for the harmonisation of the teachers’ salaries with those of other civil servants.

“The children who are now out of school and others are waiting to sit their national exams have no voice of their own and that is why leaders need to sit and find a solution fast,” Mr Kilonzo said.

At the same time, university lecturers also told the committee that the government had not expressed commitment in honouring previous bargaining agreements and that is why they had resorted to strike.

Universities Academic Staff Union secretary general Muga K’Olale termed the government’s offer of Sh200 pay increase offered on Friday as “a mockery to the negotiations".

Uasu 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.

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.

But the government said the offer they gave on Friday was only a start to the negotiations.

Committee chairman David Koech, however, directed that the lecturers and the government go back to the negotiations and find a solution to restore normalcy in the universities.

Mr Koech said the effects of the strike were straining the pockets of the students who were renting houses around universities as they continued to spend money without getting any education.