Employees of public universities across the country on Thursday boycotted work in a campaign for higher salaries, throwing the institutions into a crisis.
The staff from 31 institutions include lecturers under the Universities Academic Staff Union, administration staff allied to Kenya Universities Staff Union (Kusu) and janitors, cooks and healthcare workers falling under the Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotels, Educational Institutions, Hospital and allied workers (Kudheiha).
They were joined by some of the doctors who are lecturers and are members of the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Union (KMPDU).
The employees, who on Wednesday turned down a plea by Labour Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yattani not to go on strike but agree to fresh negotiations, want the government to table a counter-offer to their 2017-2021 collective bargaining agreement (CBA) proposal.
The Uasu Secretary-General, Dr Constantine Wasonga, said due to the unstructured salary system in public universities, professors are earning less than their students in the medical fields because the government has refused to pay them new allowances.
Dr Wasonga accused the government of indifference, adding that they would remain on strike until a reasonable proposal is tabled.
“We have been talking about the counter-offer since last year and we cannot go on with this game any longer,” he said.
Dr Ouma Oluga, the KMPDU Secretary-general, said some of their members who are lecturers will take part in the strike.
Kenya Universities Staff Union national organising secretary Earnest Wayaya told all non-teaching staff to stay out of work until the CBA is implemented.
Mr Yattani had asked the employees to give room for dialogue, saying the strike will hurt the country’s economy and innocent students.
“The parties need to give dialogue a chance. No investor will be willing to start a business in our country if the labour market is not stable,” he said.
Education Chief Administrative Secretary Simon Kachapin said:
“We have made a proposal to the National Treasury to avail funds for implementation of the CBA.”
By going on strike before the talks could be concluded, the lecturers are creating an unnecessary crisis since they are inconveniencing students and parents who have invested time and money in the institutions, he said.
Basic Education Principal Secretary Belio Kipsang last week told MPs that Sh99 billion had been allocated to universities to cater for students’ loans and bursaries, the CBA and development of infrastructure.
But he did not give details on how much will be spent on salaries.
Inter-Public Universities Councils Consultative Forum (IPUCCF) chairman Paul Kanyari accused the employees of failing to take into account the plight of students.
“As universities, we have to consult various officers before tabling the offer and therefore reason should prevail among the lecturers,” Prof Kanyari, who is also the chairman of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), which was itself paralysed by the strike, said.
Uasu’s JKUAT chapter secretary-general Peterson Hinga said:
“It is sad that university vice-chancellors through IPUCCF, the ministry of Education and the Treasury have refused to sit and negotiate with us on a counter-offer.
"We do not blame the government on the learning disruptions but them. It is unfortunate that students will miss classes as they did last year,”
At Machakos University, Uasu chairman Martin Kasina led the lecturers in the strike and vowed that they would stay out of lecture halls until an agreement is reached.
Waving placards outside the university gate, the lecturers complained about lack of career progression, saying some had remained in the same job group for more than 10 years and that they did not enjoy house mortgage schemes or allowances given to other workers.
“One can stagnate in one grade for 12 years. That is not common practice elsewhere. We also want to enjoy schemes that are enjoyed by other civil servants such as mortgages and car loans,” Mr Kasina said.
He said the CBA should have been implemented last July but the government had not even proposed a counter-offer.
However, the strike did not take place at Egerton and Laikipia universities where employees went on with their usual tasks.
Students at the institutions are currently sitting their examinations.
Lecturers from the two campuses, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, said they were unwilling to interfere with the examinations and other semester activities.
Learning activities at the Dedan Kimathi University of Science and Technology in Nyeri went on as usual as the employees ignored the strike call.
Diploma, first and second year degree students were busy with their lessons while third and fourth years were said to be out on internship.
Reporting by Ouma Wanzala, Mary Wambui, Stephen Muthini, Faith Nyamai and Irene Mugo