More than 9,000 lecturers have warned that they will boycott work in a week’s time to press for higher pay. That would, in effect, throw public universities into a crisis.
In a broad sense, the lecturers have every right to lobby, negotiate and campaign for better terms as a just reward for their toil.
In this particular case, the Universities Academic Staff Union (Uasu) is pushing for the implementation of the 2017-2021 Collective Bargaining Agreement that they signed with the Inter-Public Universities Councils Consultative Forum.
The Kenya Universities Staff Union (Kusu) and the Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotels, Education Institutions, Hospitals and Allied Workers (Kudheiha) were also part of the deal.
Curiously, after the deal was signed by all the parties involved, a furious debate ensued over the actual value of the CBA, with the lecturers insisting that it was Sh13.8 billion while the Salaries an Remuneration Commission put the figure at Sh8.8 billion.
Last week, though, the lecturers and the other university workers capitulated and agreed to go with the SRC position.
But then it emerged that even the Sh8.8 billion was not factored into this year’s budget and, therefore, the CBA could not be implemented.
Understandably, this is what threw the lecturers into a rage and made them vow to boycott work from January 20.
Such a fiasco can only be blamed on the consultative forum. Why negotiate, agree on and register a salaries deal at the labour court if the money is not available?
Why were the lecturers not told in advance that the pay deal would have to wait for the next financial year? Why did the government wait until the universities were ready to reopen to announce it has no money?
The lecturers have every right to show their disapproval at the contempt that the government has shown them in the whole debacle.
At the very least, the government must honour its own signature and implement the deal.
But pained as they are by the CBA mess, the university workers must give dialogue a chance before they lay down their tools for the sake of the thousands of learners, who have nothing to do with the dispute but are eager to complete their studies and head out to the job market.
A strike will only make a bad situation worse. This is why Education ministry chiefs must do all they can to forestall the strike, which could cost universities greatly in terms of time and resources lost and reputation on the national and global stage.
An urgent meeting of all those involved in the deal, including top ministry officials, must be convened to resolve the stalemate.