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It’s back to school amid anxiety over strike threat

Schools re-open this morning amid confusion and anxiety with the teachers’ unions issuing a strike ultimatum unless the new pay for their members is posted, while the government maintains the school calendar will not be interrupted.

Both Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) and Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) officials have called on the government to pay teachers Sh1.4 billion as part of the 50-60 per cent required for this month, in accordance with a court order.

And last evening, Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich insisted all the government options to raise the Sh17 billion required for the whole package this year were found untenable. Kenyans are not ready for further taxation since they are already overtaxed, Rotich said.

The second option, domestic borrowing, is not viable because the government has overstretched the facility while it cannot opt for the third option—the restructuring of government expenditure—because the budget year has just begun, the CS added. “Domestic borrowing is much harder because of the environment of high interest rates and besides we cannot borrow to finance recurrent expenditure,” Rotich said last evening.

“We are in a tight corner because all the options have heavy consequences. But we are still optimistic that a solution will be found to avert a possible (teachers’) strike. Let the teachers be patriotic enough and understand the situation we are in,” Rotich said.

However, Knut secretary general Wilson Sossion said his union members will proceed on a strike to pile pressure on the government to pay teachers as ordered by the courts. He said the patience of teachers has been overstretched by the employer, Teachers Service Commission (TSC), which he accused of “using all kinds of delaying tactics and taking us in circles”.

“You cannot call for patience when it comes to a court order. That would be illegal and contempt of court,” he added. If teachers are not paid by end of today (Monday, August 31), Sossion said the union would sue the TSC for contempt of court and failing to meet the timeline stipulated by the Labour Relations and Employment Court.

And Knut chairman Mudzo Nzili said last evening the union would hold a steering committee meeting today to decide on the immediate course of action. He said, after the consultations, the steering committee would then advise its members on the way forward regarding the implementation of the 50-60 per cent pay increase.

“We are consulting tomorrow (today) for the way forward before we make a grand announcement. We shall advise our members,” he said. Kuppet secretary general Akello Misori also reiterated the union is not ready to engage in talks with TSC other than to sign a Collective Bargaining Agreement directed by the Labour court on June 30.

He said, failure to pay the money by end of today would lead to automatic disruption of the third term re-opening of schools. “We are not to blame for anything as we notified the government of our intention well in advance. TSC should put its house in order and pay teachers on time as failing this would lead to contempt of court,” he said.

However, TSC said it has not received any strike notice from either Knut or Kuppet and called on teachers to report to workstations and perform their teaching and administrative roles as required.

“Third term will run from August 31 to November 12 and there has been no change to the term dates,” said the TSC head of Communications Kihumba Kamotho.

In a statement to newsrooms yesterday, the TSC directed it’s County Directors of Education to ensure full compliance. Kamotho said the dispute is an economic one which is the subject matter of an appeal in the Court of Appeal that is set for hearing on September 22, meaning teachers have to wait for a determination before taking action.

Kamotho said TSC had not received any strike notice and that it expected all teachers to report to work promptly today. “The commission has not received any strike notice from either Knut or Kuppet. In any case, the only dispute the commission is aware of is the Economic Dispute which is the subject matter of an appeal in the Court of Appeal.

All teachers are, therefore, expected in their respective workstations from Monday (today)…,” TSC stated. This happens as the National Assembly committee on Education chaired by Murang’a Women’s Rep Sabina Chege has scheduled a meeting today to seek a solution to the standoff between the teachers’ employer and the unions.

The Supreme Court, on August 17, said it had no jurisdiction to rule against the decision by the Court of Appeal which asked TSC to comply with a Labour court ruling and increase teachers’ salaries pending the hearing of their appeal. TSC had filed a petition at the Supreme Court seeking to stop the previous court decision that awarded teachers a salary increment.

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