May 24th 2017

Society / Education

Uhuru, with eye on elections, holds momentous meeting with teachers’ unions

The teachers’ trade unions KNUT and KUPPET finally signed a long-awaited collective bargaining agreement which will cover the increment in basic salary that the government had opposed last year.

By Winfred Mbuya Mwanikiwmwaniki@kenyafreepress.comThursday, 23 Jun 2016 15:53 EAT

The teachers’ trade unions KNUT and KUPPET finally signed a long-awaited collective bargaining agreement [CBA] which will cover the increment in basic salary that the government had opposed last year. President Uhuru Kenyatta joined high school principals at their 41st annual national conference at Wild Waters in Mombasa where he unreservedly endorsed a new CBA signed between the unions and the Teachers Service Commission Wednesday.

The president, whose government has been at loggerheads with the unions, also met the unions' leaders in a confidence-building mission that analysts saw as part of his efforts to mollify the teaching force ahead of the 2017 elections.

KUPPET secretary general Akelo Misori told the Free Press that the president was emphatic that TSC and the unions should conclude discussions over a new CBA by October to enable their agreements to be factored in the budget for 2017/2018 financial year.

The government last year rejected a 50-60 per cent salary increment for teachers even after the TSC had committed to it. A court case on the matter poisoned relations between the two sides, especially after the forcefully rejected a decision by the Industrial Court awarding the increment based on TSC’s own proposal.

Teachers went on the offensive, with KNUT in particular launching a political campaign to undermine Jubilee’s standing with teachers. The government retaliated with an unprecedented backlash, withholding the collection of membership dues on which the unions’ sustenance is based.

The three year CBA signed on Tuesday shall cover July 2017 to June 2021. Its negotiations will start in July 1. “Let us get a new CBA before the end of this year. But let us not fight all the time. It is democracy but we must talk,” said President Uhuru.

 Kenya National Union of Teachers[KNUT] secretary general Wilson Sossion said that the president had given the greenlight for unions to start fresh negotiations on everything, including basic salary. “The meeting with the president was productive; we are very good friends and we shall be very good friends if we sign it in the shortest time possible,” said Sossion.

The teachers unions’ have been on the streets time and time again demonstrating for an increment in the basic salaries. After a series of wins in the last two decades, the unions met their match in the Jubilee government. In 2013, the government had KNUT leaders arrested for calling a strike, a move that was unprecedented in the fifty-year history of teachers' activism.

Last year, teachers went on the longest period of industrial action, forcing national examinations to be postponed. While the government rescinded a decision to sack striking teachers, it responded to the strike with decisions that undercut the unions' financial capacities and organisation by withholding members' contributions, which under law are deducted by the employer.

The president's meeting with the unionists, unplanned as it was, carried deep symbolism for both sides and raised hopes for the unions whose operations have been severely affected by a long financial crunch since the strike ended in September.

Winfred is a student of journalism studies at the Technical University of Kenya currently on internship at the Kenya Free Press, specialising in education matters.





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