An indefinite strike action by state university teachers throughout Kenya enters its fourth day today (Thursday). The teachers are demanding a pay raise and improved working conditions. In defiance of a court order, the teachers say they will not return to the classroom until the government fully meets their demands. Even though the government calls the strike illegal, it says it is ready to negotiate with the teachers.
Kilemi Mwiria is Kenya’s deputy minister of education. He talked with VOA English to Africa reporter Peter Clottey about the strike.
“The lecturers decided to go on strike last Monday, because the salary package they are asking for was not possible to be given by government. There is a committee of university counsels that have been negotiating with them and made an offer to them, which would amount to more than a third of what they are asking for but which is still a significant improvement from what they were making. The university lecturers said they were not going to take it and there has not been any possibility of dialogue, which is unfortunate. So basically, we are saying that we hope that we will give dialogue a chance and that the 600% the lecturers are asking for is not tenable, it’s unreasonable, it’s not sustainable. The idea is to talk. I mean look at the figure they are being offered by the inter-university forum and look at what they are asking for, and talk it out and see where they will meet in the middle,” he said.
Mwiria says there is a consensus for all the stakeholders to negotiate with the striking teachers to resolve the impasse.
“Last week we had a meeting: minister of labor, university academic staff union members, and ministry of education officials and we seem to agree then that we should go back and talk. But it seems like some officials in the union did not really want any discussion and they said that, unless they are given something reasonable, they are not talking, which I thought was quite unfortunate because the purpose of negotiating is to see if we can arrive at something that is acceptable and you can’t refuse what has not been negotiated,” he noted.
He explains Tuesday’s court decision, which declared the strike action illegal and ordered the teachers to go back to the classroom.
“There was this court order, and unfortunately there has been those developments whereby if you ignore it, then the strike is illegal and the vice chancellors have the right to fire lecturers. I personally think that is not the direction we want to go. I think we should regroup again, discuss the issues and see if we can give dialogue a chance for the sake of our universities,” Mwiria noted.
He says employers of the striking teachers have expelled some of them for refusing to obey the court order to end the strike.
“I am told some have already been fired: two from Kenyatta University which is in Nairobi and ten from Egathan University, which is near Nakuru in the root valley part of Kenya. The reason was that because they didn’t teach and because they were asked to go back to work by eight o’clock this morning (Wednesday). So actually according to the law, if indeed they did not teach, yes indeed there is some justification,” Mwiria said.
He says the government is willing to negotiate with the striking teachers to resolve the impasse.
“This morning, we had a press conference and the minister made it very clear that we are all interested in dialogue, so the government is taking the first step. So, I actually see hope that we will agree and resolve the crisis before it gets out of proportion,” he said.
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