The fear of classrooms without teachers looms large after last-ditch talks to avert a strike called by two unions collapsed.
By last evening the Ministry of Education and Teachers Service Commission (TSC) had retreated to their hardline positions.
Also refusing to budge were the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) and Kenya Union of Post-Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet).
Teachers Service Commission bosses led by the Secretary, Gabriel Lengoiboni, were Thursday holed up in a day-long meeting whose outcome, however, was to send warning letters to the two teachers’ unions asking them to withdraw the “inappropriate” strike.
Knut and Kuppet officials earlier left a meeting with the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) fuming because it did not yield a solution.
Instead, the commission told the unions categorically that it would not negotiate with them over salaries and referred them to the TSC.
But TSC reiterated the earlier position taken by Education Minister Mutula Kilonzo: That negotiations cannot take place until the TSC is restructured in accordance with the new TSC Act.
The unions accused the Government of “not doing enough to engage with teachers”, and vowed they would press on with the strike on Monday, when schools re-open for third term.
Last evening The Standard established that TSC wrote to the unions asking them to withdraw the strike notice to give room for proper talks that would, however, only resume once the commission is restructured.In the letters, Mr Lengoiboni termed the strike “inappropriate”, saying the commission is hamstrung to act because of the many legal and procedural challenges.
He cited section 13 of the new TSC Act that provides for the establishment of a committee that shall engage the unions in salary talks.
TSC, he explained, is willing to dialogue with the teachers, but that is only possible once the TSC Act is operational.
“The TSC Act was assented to by the President two days ago and so the necessary structures for meaningful negotiations are yet to be established,” read the letter.
It added that President Kibaki is also yet to constitute a selection panel to recruit the TSC chairman and members of the commission.
The letter is copied to Mr Kilonzo, acting head of Public Service, Francis Kimemia, Public Service Minister, Dalmas Otieno, and Education PS, George Godia.
The position echoes that of Kilonzo, who has insisted only TSC can address the teachers’ grievances, and that negotiations could only take place after the commission is restructured.
“Harmonisation (of salaries) cannot be done arbitrarily. There must be a process and the process was waiting for TSC Bill to become law. The President has already signed it into law. So they have an opportunity to use the law,” Mutula told The Standard.
He added: “Let the teachers know the process that needs to be followed because they are threatening the wrong person. I am not their employer; TSC is, but we have not even recruited commissioners.”
Teachers are demanding a 300 per cent pay increment agreed with the Government in 1997, and which was to be paid in phases.
Knut and Kuppet vowed teachers would abandon classrooms next week at the beginning of the term in which national examinations are administered.
Knut Secretary General Okuta Osiany said the Government seems disinterested to engage with the unions. He warned them to take responsibility for any eventuality.
“No meeting. No nothing. They are not interested and teachers will go on with the strike,” he said.
He added: “If they were interested by now they should have talked to us or even called us.”
But Osiany said teachers were willing to give dialogue a chance only if authorities beat the deadline for the strike.
“We are ready for any meeting even if they call us on Sunday at midnight,” he added.
Kuppet national chairman Omboko Milemba said they were not interested in any talks other than with their employer.
“We had a meeting with the Salaries and Remuneration Commission, but we are glad they said we should negotiate with our employer,” he said.
Milemba said the statement from the SRC rests the earlier claims by Kilonzo and Finance Minister Njeru Githae that only the commission could address the issue.
New TSC Act
“We cannot storm the TSC for a meeting. We shall wait for them to call us. For now the strike is on, and Kuppet is set to go,” he said.
In the letter to the unions, Lengoiboni cited section 13 (5) of the TSC Act that establishes a consultative committee on terms and service of all the registered teachers, which he added is yet to be constituted.
Consequently, Lengoiboni asked the unions to call off the strike because it will “cripple learning in schools and affect examinations”.
“We ask the unions to withdraw the strike notice to allow for operationalisation of the TSC Act that will establish the structures for proper consultations,” read the letter.
Prof Godia said teachers’ grievances date back to 1997, and asked them to be patient for proper resolution of the matters.
“We ask teachers to report to work on Monday and to let the children enjoy their rights under Article 43 of the new Constitution,” he said.
Godia said a brief by the TSC indicated that most of the demands of the teachers had been fulfilled as was agreed in 2009.
In a brief to the Ministry of Education and Treasury, TSC had asked the latter to release Sh2 billion for teachers who were in service as at July 1.
He said following the decision of the Government to harmonise salaries of public officials the commission recommended that the funds be provided to facilitate harmonisation of teachers’ salaries as well.
“The cost implication of awarding the salary increase for teachers is Sh13.4 billion per annum,” read the letter.
Mr Otieno did not factor in teachers in a salary review that saw Treasury release Sh6.8 billion for civil servants.The deteriorating situation ended a glimmer of hope that had emerged on Wednesday when TSC convened a meeting with senior officials of the Education, Public Service, and Finance ministries to discuss the strike.
The one-hour meeting took place at TSC headquarters in Nairobi. It is understood to have explored a proposal to be presented to the Treasury for approval to negotiate with teachers, according to a senior official, who attended the meeting.
Lengoiboni confirmed the meeting took place, but declined to give details of what was discussed or resolved.
By AUGUSTINE ODUOR, The Standard