Tough month beckons for State after teachers’ supreme pay win

With September just days away, the signs of how rough the month will be for the government are already too clear as trade unions representing public servants gear up for what could be the biggest and most sophisticated fight with the Jubilee government for better pay.

Already, teachers have issued a strike notice if by end of August their employer, Teachers Service Commission(TSC) fails to pay them a 50-60 per cent increase on basic salary as ordered by the Court of Appeal in July. Last Wednesday, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal by TSC which sought to overturn the appellate’s court order for the pay increase.

By end of the week, it was clear that a major clash was imminent with both teachers on the one hand and the two teachers’ unions on the other hardening their position on the matter. On Friday, Attorney General Githu Muigai gave the best indication that the government does not intend to honour the court order, arguing that paying the money would plunge the government into a crisis. “The government is not in the habit of getting itself in crisis,” he said.

The Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) is on record saying the teachers should not be paid while TSC was still seeking a meeting with teachers over the pay demand. Emboldened by the decision of the Supreme Court verdict to uphold the lower court’s ruling on the teachers pay demand, trade unions representing other public servants are digging in to have their demands for better terms of service also granted.

And yesterday, unions representing healthworkers held a meeting to decide on a strike to push government to implement agreements entered into between 2012 and 2013. “Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KPMDU) and Kenya National Union of Nurses have agreed to issue the strike notice on health workers terms of service in September.

The health workers unions are hiding their excitement over the ruling by the Supreme Court which KMPDU has called a “wake up call to government to respect workers’ rights. “It is proof that there is a clear need for better terms of service for government workers. We congratulate the teachers unions for extracting such a favourable ruling,” says Samuel Oroko, who chairs KPMDU.

Nurses’ union secretary general Seth Panyako says the entire trade unions movement in the country is optimistic after the court ruling. “All the unions are supporting the teachers. The government must implement the court order because in any case it will be granting the teachers what was agreed on in 1997,” says Panyako.

The two health workers bodies see the government treating them in the manner it has treated teachers since 1997 when the then President Moi’s government signed a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with Knut but refused to honour it. In their own case, the health workers have also entered into agreements with the government but the employer is yet to implement those agreements. “The court ruling has energised our cause as well.

As you know, KMPDU signed a CBA with government in 2013. But the government has refused to implement it. Last June, we filed a case in the Labour Court where we are praying the court to order that our agreement be registered and implemented by the government,” says Oroko. In the agreement that was entered after a prolonged medics’ strike, the doctor’s entry level job groups in public service jumped up by two grades.

Basic salaries for the lowest paid doctor was increased from Sh35,910 to Sh107,730 while that of the highest paid doctor was increased from Sh302,980 to Sh550,000. The doctors also extracted increase in their allowances and also got new allowances which if implemented, would push total pay for the lowest paid doctor from Sh127,910 to Sh325,730 and the highest paid doctor from Sh528,980 to Sh946,000.

The agreement between nurses and the government is in almost a similar abeyance as that of the doctors. Devolved function “Nurses union started negotiating a CBA with the Ministry of Health in 2012 and finalised it in 2013. However, the government refused to sign it. The reason they gave for not signing was that health was a devolved function and, therefore, they are required to sign the agreement with individual county governments.

This is not acceptable because the Constitution is clear that it is the National government’s role to design and monitor labour standards. We issued a strike notice last year but activist Okiya Omtata went to court and extracted an order stopping the strike. About the same time, we went to court. Our matter is still pending ,”says Panyako. In the agreement with the government, nurses had extracted a 25-40 per cent increase in basic pay while new allowances had been added as the normal allowances were increased.

And the unions are not sparing harsh words against SRC chair Sarah Serem who they say is overstepping her mandate. Oroko says SRC is a total failure. “The Constitution is clear on the SRC’s mandate which is to determine the salaries of State officers and advise on remuneration of public servants. In regards to the salaries of public officers, the commission has been a total failure. In the case of doctors, they failed to advise the government to implement the agreement KMPDU signed with the government.

How can they now start talking about harmonisation of public servants jobs? They are simply overstepping their mandate,” he says. “Serem is just engaging in an excise in futility with regards to harmonisation of public servants remuneration. What harmonisation is she talking about? According to the Constitution, that role squarely rests with the Public Service Commission.

Unfortunately, no one in SRC seems to notice that the commission is overstepping its mandate to a point where it is even taking over roles that should done by trade unions,” said Panyako. On Wednesday, Serem said paying teachers would be a mistake because they would be better remunerated than other public servants.

“We harmonised all salaries, all allowances, ensuring that teachers receive what they did not initially enjoy, not minding the fact that most teachers reside in or near their homes and do not pay rent nor daily transport,” she was quoted as saying. Yet as things turn out now, the harmonisation process which the government calls capacity assessment and rationalisation is one of the reasons, we have established that the health workers will be called a strike.

On Friday, it emerged that plans for laying off 18,000 public servants are at an advanced stage with the final whistle likely to be blown as early as next month.

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