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Strike over teacher transfers may lock out 10m learners in January

Thursday December 20 2018

Kenya National Union of Teachers

Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) Secretary-General Wilson Sossion addressing the media on December 19, 2018 at Knut buildings, Nairobi. He accused Teachers Service Commission of irregularly transferring more than 3,000 head teachers, and told tutors to go on strike starting January 2, 2019. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

OUMA WANZALA
By OUMA WANZALA
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More than 10 million learners could be locked out of class when schools re-open in two weeks after teachers, through their union, issued a strike notice to oppose mass transfers by their employer.

The Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) on Wednesday reacted angrily to an announcement on Tuesday by the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) that it would transfer more than 3,000 teachers by the end of this year.

The union asked its 200,000 members not to report to work on January 2.

It said its members would boycott classes until their demands — among them respect for labour rights, professional freedom, and promotion of those who have acquired higher professional qualifications, have served for long, or have exhibited exceptional performance at work — are met.

Knut has since written to Labour Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani informing him of the decision to go on strike. The letter is copied to Education Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed.

FORMAL STATEMENT

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Today, Kenya Union of Post-Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) will meet to deliberate on and issue a formal statement on the matter, although all indications yesterday were that it would not join Knut in the industrial action.

Through secretary-general Akelo Misori, Kuppet said: “No union can stand on the path of an employer’s appraisal system”, adding that Clause 7 of teachers’ employment letters allows TSC to deploy them anywhere in the country.

“The issues raised by Knut do not meet the threshold of industrial action,” added Mr Misori, noting that Kuppet would, for now, focus on issues such as the proposed 1.5 per cent housing tax and the 7.5 per cent pension deductions from teachers.

“We will engage the employer on these issues, and if TSC doesn’t listen to us, we will see what to do,” said Mr Misori.

BOYCOTT CLASSES

The last teachers’ strike happened in 2015 and led to the signing of a four-year collective bargaining agreement between the union and TSC in October 2016.

Knut secretary-general Wilson Sossion thereafter promised that there would be no more strikes, at least for the next four years.

The latest threat to boycott classes, therefore, comes as a surprise to the teachers’ employer, even though tensions have been mounting between it and the union since October this year, when the two met to iron out differences on, among other labour issues, teacher transfers. The meeting followed the intervention of President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Their five-day meeting outside Nairobi, however, collapsed on the first day after the commission rejected Knut’s demands for revocation of the transfer of 85 head teachers. The two slated another meeting for October 19, but never met owing to unavailability of TSC.

CONTENTIOUS ISSUES

Mr Sossion said attempts by Knut to meet TSC in a bid to resolve contentious issues affecting teachers’ career progression, professional development, job security, professional freedom, and a good working environment had been ignored.

“The commission should have listened to and addressed teachers’ concerns to ensure industrial harmony and peace,” said Mr Sossion during a press conference in Nairobi.

He was accompanied by other union officials, among them national chairman Wickliffe Omucheyi.

TSC chief executive officer Nancy Macharia did not respond to our questions on Knut’s strike notice.

But Mr Sossion was not short of words, saying the commission had betrayed the trust of teachers, particularly on the code of regulations and on the 2017-2021 CBA.

“Teachers have been left without any form of regulation to protect or guide professional development, career progression, job security, and general well-being,” said Mr Sossion.

He said the commission, which he accused of developing policies and programmes affecting teachers without consulting Knut in line with the Public Participation Act of 2018 and the Fair Administration Action Act of 2014, has become an agent of confusion.

FAIR TREATMENT

“The commission has contravened the Constitution of Kenya as regards fair and just treatment of workers, and even disobeyed President Kenyatta, who directed the revision of the teacher delocalisation policy,” said Mr Sossion.

Knut is claiming that the transfer of 3,094 head teachers has not been approved by the appointment board that sits once a year in December, and that the notice is therefore illegal.

“This also constitutes abuse of office aimed at bullying teachers and defeating the directive of the Head of State,” said Mr Sossion.

“Circulars and internal memos which contradict the Code of Regulations for Teachers, the CBA, the TSC Act, the Labour Relations Act, and the Public Participation Act, among other statutes, are now the norm at the commission’s headquarters,” said Mr Sossion.

He said teachers are contesting withdrawal of the right to promotion on account of merit, long service, and higher qualifications while on the job.

However, in the past, TSC has insisted that promotions would be determined by productivity and not academic qualifications.

It has also stated that teachers must be appraised using performance contracting.