Kenya : Negotiations or not, teachers will go on stike if gov’t fails

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Kenya’s Education Minister, Prof. Sam Ongeri, has invited the Kenyan Union of Post-Primary Teachers (KUPPET) to a round-table negotiation on a harmonization proposal for the teachers’ salaries a week after he dismissed the group as the minority in teachers’ affairs.

Ongeri, in a letter to the union’s secretary general Njeru Kanyamba, said the government was committed to improving the teachers’ farewell and called on the union to engage in “positive and hopefully successful negotiations.”

Trade union officials said Monday that Kanyamba’s invitation letter for the dialogue had been received, saying the first meeting would be held Wednesday in Nairobi.

It will be attended by Permanent secretaries in the education and higher education ministries, the officials said. “Even as we go to negotiate with the minister, our programme for the strike is still on and we are not backing down until the minister agrees to our salary harmonization proposal,” said Kanyamba.

Also to attend the talks will be the Teachers Service Commission chair Hussein Ibrahim and officials from the labour ministry.

Kanyamba also called on the rival union group, the giant Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) to suspend the on-going remuneration talks with the government until an ideal harmonization was agreed upon to match those of other civil servants.

“We are pleading with our colleagues in KNUT to suspend their talks with the government and join us in fighting for harmonization,” he added.

KNUT entered into fresh talks with the government on a new pay increment in June with a formation of a Teachers’ Service Remuneration Committee consisting of it s representatives, the Teachers’ Service Commission, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Finance and the Directorate of Personnel Management.

KUPPET, registered six years ago, has been struggling to get recognition from the government as an official teachers union body.

In the past, the government has been dismissive of KUPPET which only caters for secondary school teachers and above, preferring to deal with KNUT which represents teachers across the board – from primary level and to tertiary institutions.

Kanyamba says this will be the first official engagement between his union and the government. According to the secretary general, the union has given government a 21-day strike notice as stipulated by the law. The notice expires 26 September.

Kanyamba dismissed the education minister’s earlier claim that the union represented a mere 3,000 teachers, saying it had 32,000 paid up and registered members.

The proposed strike has elicited support from the Head Teachers Association.

Last week, Ongeri downplayed the strike threat, saying the law did not allow the ministry to negotiate with the union which issued the strike threat. “The law is very clear on whom the ministry can negotiate with over issues pertaining (to teachers)… Unfortunately, Kuppet only enjoys a 3 per cent membership (3,000 teachers) while the law requires that we can only discuss with the Kenya National Union of Teachers,” Prof Ongeri said at the time.

If the teachers go on strike, it will adversely affect Form Four and Standard Eight candidates preparing for the high school and primary school national examinations which start late next month.

According to KUPPET, the union is pressing for the harmonization of salaries to allow teachers in certain job groups earn as much as their Civil Service counterparts.

In its proposal, the union is demanding that chief principals who manage national and provincial schools earn US$ 1,717 a month, up from US$ 631, while the lowest paid teacher should earn US$ 321 from the current US$ 236.

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