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Back to class as unions call off teachers’ strike following court order

Saturday October 3 2015

Knut Secretary-General Wilson Sossion at a past

Knut Secretary-General Wilson Sossion at a past event. He announced on October 3, 2015 that teachers have called off their strike and will resume work on October 5, 2015. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

OUMA WANZALA
By OUMA WANZALA
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ELVIS ONDIEKI
By ELVIS ONDIEKI
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Teachers resume teaching tomorrow to the relief of millions of students, pupils and their parents amid anxiety over the fate of ill-prepared national examination candidates.

The two teachers unions – Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) and Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) – yesterday asked their members to return to work, bringing to an end a five-week stoppage that had paralysed education. The unions were ordered by the court to end the strike.

But the confrontation between the government and the unions may not be over as union officials harshly criticised the back-to-work order as unjust and unfair to teachers while the government appeared to dig in for a long fight with the unions.

A government source, who spoke in confidence, said senior state officials felt that Justice Nduma Nderi, who awarded teachers a 50-60 per cent pay rise, had erred by taking up the roles of the Salaries and Remuneration Commission and hinted that the confrontation would only truly be settled once there was a decision by the higher courts over the matter.

The unions, on the other hand, said they had only suspended their strike for 90 days as had been directed by the court but would not hesitate to resume if the basic pay rise was not implemented and a collective bargaining agreement signed.

Twelve million students and pupils in public schools, including 1.4 million candidates, have been at home since the start of the third term due to the strike. The industrial action sowed panic among students and parents, particularly as the date approached for the start of national examinations.

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On calling off the strike, the unions made a new demand: That the national examinations be suspended to give candidates adequate time to prepare.

The top decision-making organs of the two unions held separate meetings in Nairobi yesterday. Knut secretary-general Wilson Sossion said the union was committed to the rule of law and had reluctantly halted the stoppage.

Kuppet secretary-general Akelo Misori said the suspention of the strike was not an act of cowardice.

“We have pulled a gallant fight in this regard, and therefore we ask for a lot of patience and understanding from our members and the public,” said Mr Misori.

However, calling off of the strike did not go down well with some teachers who had thronged the Knut headquarters boardroom in Nairobi to hear the announcement.

The teachers did not hide their disappointment with the unions and they told them off and even declined to sing the “solidarity song” which was being chorused by the national executive council members.

However, Knut chairman Mudzo Nzili prevailed upon them to accept the decision saying that they were law-abiding citizens.

The Teachers Service Commission had applied on the teachers and the unions, including paying only 40,000 out of 288,060 teachers their September salaries.

The commission had also declined to submit about Sh16 billion to financial institutions for two months as deductions for loans teachers have taken while the unions had not received Sh340 million as membership dues for two months.

The recruitment of 70,000 relief teachers must have scared teachers especially those who are on the verge of retiring and need their pensions.

Union staff had also started grumbling as they had not been paid for two months.

Further, not all teachers were on strike. Some were quietly teaching.

The government spends Sh14.5 billion on teachers’ salaries and allowances a month and has claimed that an increment would trigger a fiscal crisis and copycat industrial action. But unions say this was misleading.

At a press conference yesterday, Mr Sossion took a swipe at Justice Nelson Abuodha’s ruling that directed them to go back to class, terming it unfair.

The Knut secretary-general said the court orders should be implemented as a package as opposed to only those against teachers being enforced while the commission and government were not.

“For instance, Mr Justice Abuodha ordered that there is to be no victimisation of the teachers and that their September salaries be paid in full. TSC and government are up to now in violation of those orders,” said Mr Sossion.

He added that the commission was still withholding third party dues and union deductions running into billions of shillings and has since further advertised for 70,000 relief teaching jobs.

Mr Sossion went on: “With the teachers back in class and with the government and TSC currently prosecuting their appeals against Justice Nderi’s award, why would the government and TSC proceed to conciliation as ordered by Justice Abuodha to discuss implementation of an award they are seeking to set aside?”

Mr Sossion lamented that coercing teachers back to class merely strengthens the hand of the government and TSC in the dispute and helps them to be even more obstructionist.

“This latest petition no 72 of 2015 in which the teachers are now being ordered to go back to class arises directly from the government’s and TSC’s refusal  to obey the orders of Mr Justice Nderi, the subject matter of the appeals currently ongoing before the Court of Appeal,” said Mr Sossion.

He said that the petition was an abuse of the court process by parties in contempt of court. He argued that the TSC should not have been given audience nor been granted the crucial order they sought.

“The return of the teachers to class robs teachers of their only effective leverage for enforcement of their rights,” said the Knut secretary-general.

However, he said teachers appreciate Justice Abuodha’s specific findings in his judgment that the strike was legal and protected unlike Lady Justice Mbaru’s finding in an inter-locutory application that the strike was unprotected.

Mr Misori said the blatant disrespect and disregard of court orders by government had led to the untold suffering of Kenyan children, teachers, parents and the public as a whole.

“Kenyans have also been treated to distortions of facts and truths about the Kenyan wage bill. But having considered all this, ladies and gentlemen, the national governing council has resolved to comply with the attendant judgment of Justice Abuodha which was delivered on September 25, 2015 and his ruling of October 1, 2015 to suspend the strike and pursue the proceedings in the Appeal Court,” said the Kuppet secretary-general.

He said that the decision to suspend the strike was merely a strategic retreat to focus on the bigger picture.

“We have to exhaust the court process and to protect the teachers and our institutions from mischievous schemes. We have to soldier on while facing realities of the battles ahead,” said Mr Misori.

He asked TSC to pay the teachers their September salaries as directed by court and the Ministry of Education to immediately convene a stakeholders’ meeting to consider suspending the examinations to be conducted at a time when the students and the teachers have normalised the operations of schools.

“We also expect the Cabinet secretary for education to call stakeholders with the sole aim of revising the term dates because we are now not sure which term dates we are operating with. The term dates were suspended and students were sent home. Only candidates were left in school. And currently, when the students were asked to go back as from Monday, they did not go back to school. That means that nothing happened for a whole week,” said Mr Misori.

The return of the 288,060 TSC-employed teachers to school now complicates matters for the 10,000 relief teachers who were recruited on Friday by TSC and whose recruitment was halted by the Labour Court on Friday.

The commission head of communication Kihumba Kamotho  said the commission will sit this week and make decisions on several aspects, including the payment of September salaries and recruitment of relief teachers.

“The decisions were made on Friday and the commission’s leadership will have to meet and make a decision after getting a brief from our lawyers,” said Mr Kamotho.

However, sources at the commission told the Sunday Nation that the already absorbed 10,000 relief teachers will continue to work since they have already entered into a binding contract with TSC.

Yesterday, Education Cabinet Secretary Jacob Kaimenyi and Principal Secretary Belio Kipsang could not be reached for comment.

The assessment for oral and practical examinations for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education examination started on September 28 and goes on until Tuesday before the start of theory papers on October 12.

The schools will be re-opening for the crucial third term with empty school bank accounts.