The teachers’ strike officially kicked off yesterday after the top decision-making organ of the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) endorsed a nationwide industrial action to push for the implementation of a salary award.
The teachers union made the announcement moments after the Supreme Court declined to stop the adoption of a 50-60 per cent pay increase ordered by lower courts until its application seeking a review of the ruling is determined.
The country is now faced with the threat of having impending national exams disrupted unless the government and teachers unions move to address the crisis in the education sector. However, last evening, the Teachers Service Commission declared the strike illegal, saying it has not been served with any notice and warned teachers who may participate in it of dire consequences.
A statement issued by TSC director of communications Kihumba Kamotho stated: “Any strike action emanating from the current circumstances is illegal and unprotected. Individual teachers who boycott work or engage in unprofessional conduct will certainly suffer consequences in accordance to the Teachers Service Commission Act and the Code of Regulations for Teachers.”
At least 500,000 candidates are scheduled to start their KCSE early next month while another one million are expected to sit KCPE exams in November. Educationists have also warned that a teachers’ strike is likely to impact negatively on the school calender as happened last year when schools were forced to close late for the December holidays.
And since the Kenya National Examination Council uses teachers as invigilators and markers, their boycott of the exams could as well lead to a delay in the release of the results and, consequently, universities admissions once again.
Knut Secretary General Wilson Sossion blamed the government for the paralysis which comes at a time when students are expected to sit national exams. Speaking after meeting the National Executive Council yesterday, Sossion accused the government of misleading Kenyans to gain public sympathy and poisoning the public against teachers.
“Majority of learners are our own children. We are not living in convents, we are not nuns and we are not priests. However, it is unfortunate that we cannot pay school fees where our children are schooling,” he said. “We pity and empathise with our fellow parents and children but it is not our wish that it has come to this.
Parents should, however, keep their children at home for safety reasons as no one will be in schools to attend to them,” he added. Sossion said teachers are heading for an infinite withdrawal of labour until they are paid as ordered by the court.
“The ball is now in the government’s court and they now hold the key to the normal resumption of classes,” he said. For the government to realise the fulfillment of other sustainable development, Sossion said, it should pay attention to teachers’ plight, unlike the current situation where most teachers are living in abject poverty.
“Many teachers cannot even afford proper healthcare and have to seek for other alternative means to get resources to cater for their basic needs,” he said. And the strike threatens to metamorphose into total industrial unrest after the Cotu pledged to mobile its members into downing tools in support of teachers unless the government honours the court order.
And in a political twist, ODM has thrown its weight behind the strike. Knut chairman Mudzo Nzili pointed out that they have resumed the strike which was procedurally called on December 28, 2014 and are not obliged to issue any notice to the Teachers Service Commission.
“If anything, the Labour Relations and Employment Court did not declare the strike illegal as we agreed to set it aside to allow the court process to be continued,” said Nzili. The Knut chair said they were not willing to hold any negotiations or take anything less than the 50 to 60 per cent increase awarded by the court.
“We shall not move an inch below what was awarded and will only resume duties when all this is delivered. We are not negotiating about court orders,” he said. Meanwhile, TSC will know the fate of its appeal on September 9, 2015 when the Supreme Court will hear their application seeking to have a five-judge Bench review its own decision on the salaries stalemate.
Justice Jackton Ojwang’ directed all parties in the case to file their responses with the registry before Wednesday for the Supreme Court Registrar to give directions on the hearing date. Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, Deputy CJ Kalpana Rawal and Judges, Jackton Ojwang, Smokin Wanjala and Ibrahim Mohamed ruled they had no jurisdiction to hear the matter afresh and threw out the case.
TSC, however, said the ruling was erroneous because their application was already before the court and was not heard. Through lawyer George Oraro, Knut said that a competent verdict or a legal finding of lack of jurisdiction cannot be revisited through a review application.
This happened as learning in public primary schools faced paralysis throughout the country. Knut and Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) officials in Narok County accused the government of reneging on the High Court order on the implementation of the pay rise.
Led by Knut Executive Secretary Denise Rakwa, the union leaders led operations in ensuring that all schools are closed to heed to the calls by the national leaders. Teachers in Nyamira County also vowed that no amount of threats would put them down.