The opening of the new school term Monday could be severely disrupted following the collapse of talks between teachers and the government Saturday.
The Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) dramatically boycotted the negotiations which were a last-ditch effort to avert the strike.
Yesterday, the whereabouts of Knut officials were unknown as calls to their cellphones went unanswered the entire day until in the evening when Knut secretary- general Wilson Sossion told the Sunday Nation he was held up in a meeting.
“I am in a meeting please,” he said and disconnected his phone.
However, the Kenya Union of Post-Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) attended the meeting with the Teachers’ Service Commission but left prematurely and without striking any deal. Kuppet officials later said the TSC offer was unacceptable.
Meanwhile the government yesterday insisted that schools will re-open tomorrow and asked parents and guardians to send their children to school.
Education Cabinet Secretary Jacob Kaimenyi told teachers to respect the rule of law.
“Whose responsibility is it to open and close schools? It is mine. This country will not be governed by strikes but by the law. I am asking Kenyans to take their children to school on Monday (tomorrow),” Prof Kaimenyi said.
He made the remarks at the Nkubu home of Meru Senator Kiraitu Murungi where political leaders were attending a New Year’s party. Prof Kaimenyi said there was a court order temporarily restraining the teachers from going on a strike and asked the teachers to respect the decision.
“You may not like me as Kaimenyi. But we have to subscribe to the rule of law,” he said.
And TSC chairperson Lydia Nzomo told reporters at the commission’s offices after the collapse of the talks that business could not go on for lack of a quorum.
Dr Nzomo said both Kuppet and Knut had been invited for the meeting, that was to start at 11.30 a.m. and had confirmed their attendance.
“However, by 3.30 p.m., Kuppet was the only union represented at the scheduled meeting. Knut was not present at the meeting and could not be reached on the telephone,” said Dr Nzomo.
The TSC chairperson insisted that the government had an offer to table in order to conclude the negotiations and therefore sign a collective bargaining agreement.
Dr Nzomo said the next meeting will now be held on Friday, January 9, when a CBA will be signed with the unions.
“The talks have not collapsed and the government is ready to continue and conclude the negotiations,” said the TSC chairperson.
The commission, too, appealed to all parents and guardians to send their children to school tomorrow.
“The commission has been served with a court order dated January 2 which has placed an injunction on the strike called by the unions. Teachers are, therefore, advised to report to their respective duty stations in compliance with the court order,” said Dr Nzomo.
She assured teachers that the government is committed to continuously improving their terms and conditions of service.
Dr Nzomo was accompanied by TSC Secretary Gabriel Lengoiboni and the chairman of the Committee on Terms and Conditions of Service, Mr Joseph Obonyo, among other members.
However, Kuppet secretary- general Akelo Misori insisted the strike was on, saying that the government offer did not meet the threshold of their demands.
“We had expected a substantial offer from the government but we got nothing tangible,” said Mr Misori.
He said they had demanded a basic salary increase of 200 per cent, house allowance, responsibility allowance, leave allowance among others but what was tabled was unacceptable.
Mr Misori said the government was not serious with the talks as it had interfered with hardship allowance, while house allowance was too little.
NOT CALL OFF STRIKE
Mr Misori said the union will honour the next meeting but will not call off the strike.
The strike also puts in jeopardy Form One selection that is set to start on January 20 after the Education Cabinet Secretary released the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exam results on Monday.
Mr Misori said teachers will not take part in the selection.
Knut issued the strike notice on December 27, stating that its members would down their tools on January 5 should the government fail to award them a new salary package.
Kuppet also joined the strike call and asked its members not to participate in Form One selection.
However, Kenya National Association of Parents (Knap) argues that the teachers should not use a strike to paralyse learning. Instead, they should move to court and seek redress, he said.
“If they were directed by the court in 2013 to engage in negotiations and one party did not meet part of the bargain, they should go back and seek redress,” said the association’s secretary-general Musau Ndunda.
The Industrial Court’s J.N. Abuodha on Wednesday stopped the teachers from taking part in the strike.
“The petitioner/applicant be and is hereby granted leave to serve this petition and any orders or directions by the way of press advertisement in a paper that has a nationwide circulation,” ordered Justice Abuodha.
The Industrial Court judge directed that the case be heard on January 14.
However, yesterday the two unions said they were yet to be served with the court order.
On Friday, the Ministry of Education stepped in to clear the issue on when schools will re-open for the new academic calendar.
In a statement, the ministry urged all parents to ignore the ultimatum from the unions and take their children to school.
“All schools and colleges will open on Monday, January 5, as scheduled, and teachers are expected to report to their duty stations accordingly,” said Education PS Dr Belio Kipsang in a statement signed by Senior Deputy Secretary Mrs Elymaryta Khaoya.
Dr Kipsang expressed confidence that the ongoing negotiations will bear fruit and asked the unions to give dialogue a chance to allow stability in the education system.
Last Monday, Education CS Kaimenyi appealed to teachers to reconsider their threat to go on strike, saying that it is the Kenyan child who will be adversely affected when learning is paralysed in public schools.
According to the TSC, the teachers’’wage bill currently stands at Sh161 billion per year and the increase could push it further.
Teachers have about 40 items they want addressed, including raising basic salary by between 200 and 300 per cent and housing allowance by 50 per cent of basic salary and hardship allowance.
Last Friday, Mr Sossion said the strike train had already left the station in a high speed and could only be stopped by a good offer.
He also maintained that he has no authority to call off the strike that was sanctioned by the 57th teachers Annual Delegates’ Conference held from December 6-9 last year in Nairobi.
He said they have held 26 meetings, with no tangible offer from the government.
“No teacher wants to strike. No union leader prides in industrial action. Withdrawal of labour is not one of the core mandates of the formation of the union.
“All these are borne of the desire to secure the livelihood of the teacher and, by extension, to enhance the long- term sustainability of quality education,” said Mr Sossion in an earlier interview.
He said the union is under an obligation to protect teachers from neglect and abuse.
The teachers have been meeting since September last year with the aim of reaching a deal but without any success.
In November, the government gave a counter-offer to the teachers but withdrew it after the Salaries and Remuneration Commission raised concern over the cost implications.
Last month, SRC proposed the review of commuter allowance rates paid to teachers, noting that they should be harmonised across the civil service.
The allowance is paid to cater for the teachers’ transport expenses to and from work and this year the teachers were awarded the allowance after a protracted struggle with the government.
Teachers get a commuter allowance of between Sh4,000 and Sh16,000 for job groups G and R respectively since July last year.
SRC has also recommended the review of responsibility allowance which it wants harmonised and consolidated into basic pay for easy determination.
The allowance is paid to teachers who have been given an administrative role and as a result do not teach and depends on whether a school is day or boarding.
SRC also recommended that a special school allowance be paid as a flat rate based on job group and not a percentage of the basic pay.
Additional reporting by Kennedy Kimanthi