Embattled Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) boss Wilson Sossion was finally been fired by the union’s top organ on Friday in a culmination of wrangles that have been fought in the courts and the streets and seen thousands of members abandon the union in the last one month.
The new union boss is Mr Hesbon Otieno, who has been the deputy secretary general. He will serve in an acting capacity until the Annual Delegates Conference convenes on December 1 in Kakamega.
Mr Sossion on Wednesday called off a special meeting of the National Executive Committee (NEC) that he had summoned at the union headquarters in Nairobi. It was to take place on Thursday. The meeting had been called by members of the NEC opposed to his rule.
Sensing that the members were determined to convene and oust him, Mr Sossion rushed to court on and sought orders to stop the meeting. Justice Byram Ongaya granted him the prayer.
However, the Registrar of Trade Unions in a letter dated August 29 to the Knut secretary-general expunged Mr Sossion’s name from the register of officials.
“I wish to inform you that I have registered the Notice of Change of Officers covering the appointments made on August 29,” the letter by the registrar, E N Gicheha, stated.
At a press briefing, Knut national chairman Wycliffe Omucheyi said that the NEC unanimously agreed to replace Mr Sossion.
But the battle for the leadership of the 62-year-old Knut appears to be far from over. Through his lawyers, J A Guserwa and Company advocates, the litigious former Knut boss has threatened to sue Ms Gicheha and cite her for contempt of court.
The NEC managed to register the new officials after camping at the Ministry of Labour and Social Services for hours. After being locked out Knut House, 41 members of the NEC and the Steering Committee are said to have met at a city hotel and endorsed the removal of Mr Sossion. The meeting was chaired by the Knut chairman Wycliffe Omucheyi.
“The court order applied to the meeting Mr Sossion had called. We met and made another requisition, held a meeting and made resolutions,” an NEC member told the Saturday Nation.
Reports indicated that 28 members voted to support the removal of Mr Sossion, eight objected while five did not participate in the voting. Only one member did not attend the meeting.
Details were scanty about the exact time the registrar accepted the change, but the new officials kept the information under wraps as they started the process of changing union signatories yesterday morning.
On Friday, Mr Sossion dismissed his removal as inconsequential, saying a meeting held secretly is illegal.
“There is no decision that can be held when a court order is in place,” he said.
The ouster comes at a time when Knut is embroiled in court cases with the teachers’ employer, the Teachers Service Commission (TSC). In July, Justice Ongaya ruled in favour of Knut in a case that TSC had sued the union.
Knut had called a strike to protest the implementation of career progression guidelines that would have been used to for promotion of teachers. The court ruled that TSC uses the Schemes of Service that were in place before.
In July, TSC deregistered Mr Sossion as a teacher owing to his nomination as a Member of Parliament. TSC rules do not allow teachers to engage in politics. In a move that further isolated him from other officials and members, TSC denied Knut members a payrise in July and has threatened to recover all money paid to Knut members as part of the 2016/21 collective bargaining agreement.
School administrators and senior teachers who belong to the rival Kenya Union for Post Primary Education Teachers (KUPPET) or to no union received the increments. The next phase is due in July next year and will mainly benefit teachers in the lower cadres who form the bulk of the teaching force.
TSC has since June refused to remit the monthly Sh140 million union dues to Knut, starving it of the revenue it uses to run its offices. It then went ahead to mischievously simplify the process of terminating or choosing union membership.
Teachers can now instruct TSC to stop deduction of their union dues (2 per cent of basic salary) by just a click of the button on their portal. The validation option has been made conspicuous and is highlighted in red. The instructions read, “Click on the checkbox to the right of the union transaction and click the “STOP UNION MEMBERSHIP” button to stop your Union membership!(s)
This has seen thousands of teachers flee the union. This week, Kuppet officials said that they had received 18,000 defectors from Knut.
NEC officials blamed Mr Sossion for the woes the union faces and accused him of putting teachers on a collision course with the employer and the government, causing members to suffer. They also accuse him of high-handedness and failure to consult NEC when making decisions that touch on the welfare of teachers.
It is now to be seen if his ouster will lead to better relations with TSC. Kiambu branch secretary Clement Gicharu told the Saturday Nation last week that “it is a mirage that things will normalise” after Mr Sossion is kicked out of the union.
“The secretary general is not the problem. TSC is the problem. It is the only employer that does not support its employees,” he said.
Mr Otieno announced that the Knut offices will be opened next week on Monday.
This is not the first time that Mr Sossion, who is also an Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) nominated MP, has been removed from the seat he has occupied since December 2013. In May last year, the top organ voted him out and replaced him with Mr Otieno but he rushed to court to quash the move.
His nomination to parliament has been a sticking point, with union officials saying he should resign to concentrate on politics.
Mr Sossion’s fate in Parliament now hangs in the balance as ODM nominated him to represent the interests of workers. It is yet to be seen whether the party might consider recalling him as he does not belong to a workers’ union now.
Mr Sossion has received support from the Central Organisation of Trade Unions boss Francis Atwoli, who has been calling for Knut not to let internal wrangles cause disharmony. Mr Atwoli has also said that Mr Sossion’s nomination to Parliament is proper and not in contravention of the International Labour Organisation rules.