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Hectic week for varsities as lecturers call off strike

Wangui Githugo @Wango_G

Studies and operations in the 31 public universities and constituent colleges are expected to normalise starting today after the lecturers union finally called off an 11- week strike that had paralysed learning and research programmes.

The Universities Academic Staff Union (Uasu) on Thursday night last week announced the end of the 78-day walkout. Their move follows the signing of a Return to Work Formula (RTWF) with the Inter-Public University Councils Consultative Forum (IPUCCF) to allow for continued discussions with the government as normalcy is restored in universities.

However, Uasu maintained its stand by rejecting the government’s counter-offer, which officials say has not in any way addressed the union’s 2017-2021 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).

Uasu Secretary General Constantine Wasonga told People Daily it was not an easy decision his Uasu’s National Executive Committee to sign the RTWF before the CBA is implemented, given that it has been a cat- and-mouse affair between them and the government.

“We just hope that the government will be serious about the dons’ CBA because signing this agreement to return to work was challenging. Uasu made a significant concession in calling off the strike to save university education from collapse and for the sake of students,” said Wasonga.

On Monday last week, Uasu had rejected the government counter-offer that proposed a cumulative rate of 1.75 per cent increase in their basic pay over four years, translating into a 0.435 per cent annualised increment but without raises in house allowance.

The re-opening of the universities is good news for parents and students who bore the brunt of the strike during the almost three-month-old industrial action. The walkout has disrupted academic and social programmes at the institutions. Finalists who would have been out of campus in April will now have to learn for another two months in order to clear and await graduation.

At the same time, graduands who were prepared to get their degrees in June are set to have the hardest and most hectic time to clear with their university’s administrations, given the short time that left for the graduations. At the University of Nairobi (UoN) for example, examinations are set to kick off soon. 

Speaking to People Daily on phone, the Vice Chancellors’ Committee chair and also Technical University of Kenya (TUK) Vice Chancellor, Prof Francis Aduol, said many discussions need to be held by top administrators in all institutions affected. “Some of them will have to draw up new schedules for the current year in order to cover up for the lost time,” he said.

Aduol said most campuses will have to make drastic changes on school calendars. “These matters will be dealt with by individual university senates as some had already resumed learning before the signing of the return-to-work formula,” he said.

Consequently, this week will see marathon meetings by universities’ councils to discuss creation of new timetables as well as examination, admission and graduation dates. “University administrations will have to ensure that course works are fully explored despite the short time available,” he said.

TUK, UoN, Kenyatta University and Technical University were the only institutions that had resumed learning before the deal was signed. This was after the respective heads recalled the lecturers and coerced them to sign letters of agreement to teach.

However, students turnout has remained low in these campuses despite some lecturers resuming duty. “Some lecturers were just pretending to teach,” said a source at the UoN. 

Earlier, UoN Uasu chapter secretary George Omondi said while some students have reported back to class and are being taught, lecturers were  thoroughly unhappy with the move by the management to intimidate them.

This semester will also see several vice chancellors’ terms end. Those whose tenures will end in May are TUK and Laikipia University VCs while those required to leave office next month are of Kisii University, University of Eldoret, Meru University, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Karatina University, Pwani University, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (Jkuat) and Kabianga.

If Uasu’s proposed CBA is to be implemented, it would mean that lecturers’ total pay would be Sh40 billion, a Sh2 billion increase from the total Sh38 billion of 2013-2017 CBA. Uasu wants the government to implement the deal in four phases during the four-year period of the CBA.

Last week, the government had offered the striking workers as little as Sh53 in salary increments. According to a breakdown of a Sh3.6 billion offer, the highest proposed annual increment  Sh1,000 was to be awarded to the highest paid professor.  The lowest paid worker was to get a Sh212 salary raise after full implementation.

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