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June 25, 2013

Kenya Government Says Teachers' Strike Illegal

by Peter Clottey

Kenya’s government has called for dialogue with the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) after saying the group’s ongoing strike is illegal.

The teachers' strike has disrupted classes in public primary and secondary schools across the country.

Labor Cabinet Secretary Kazungu Kambi dismissed KNUT’s demands that the government implement a 1997 agreement calling for improved living conditions for teachers. But, Wilson Sossion chairman of the KNUT says the administration has reneged on its part of the agreement.

“That is political mischief by some quarters of the government who don’t want to face reality,” said Sossion. “Yes, the strike is legal because the matter at hand has been a longstanding dispute between us and the government. I can assure that the teachers of this country are prepared to stay out of their classrooms for as long as it takes.”

Sossion says the KNUT suspended a previous strike last February after a public appeal. But he said the current strike is continuing because government has yet to implement the 1997 agreement despite the goodwill and commitment that the teachers have demonstrated.

But Labor Cabinet Secretary Kambi called on the teachers to end the strike.

“KNUT does not have a case and I would advise them to get a collective bargaining agreement. Going to the streets does not solve the issue but coming to the table solves almost all the issues,” Kambi said.

Sossion says there is no need to re-negotiate the agreement since it was signed in 1997. He says the administration should keep its part of the agreement.

“What the government should do is to outline how it is going to implement the CBA [Collective Bargaining Agreement], rather than to purport to invite us to the negotiation table,” Sossion said. “So the government is being mischievous, to say the least.”

KNUT demands payment of allowances set out in a 1997 collective bargaining agreement, which amount to shillings 41 billion [$478,692,630].

Sossion also criticized a government plan to provide laptop computers to public school students. He said the government should instead allocate funds to resolve the impasse with teachers.

Supporters of the government dismissed the accusation, saying President Uhuru Kenyatta promised to provide computers to students as part of campaign promises made in the run up to the general election.

Clottey interview with Wilson Sossion, KNUT president