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Kenyan Teachers Begin Strike Monday to Demand Salary Increases

Nearly half a million teachers in Kenya go on strike Monday after they say meetings with the government failed to resolve differences over salary increases. The teachers are also going on strike despite a court of arbitration order to hold off on the strike.

George Wesonga, chairman of the Kenya National Union of Teachers, told VOA the government's actions forced the teachers to embark on the nationwide strike action.

"We have been negotiating with the Teacher Service Commission about payment of the teachers' salary, and we reached a deadlock because first and foremost they wanted to pay us in five, six phases. The teachers wanted the payment in one phase because from the experience of 1997, when we reached an agreement to be paid in five phases, and the agreement was not followed, we ended up being paid in 10 phases after a long struggle has discouraged the teachers to accept any payment in phases," he said.

Wesonga also said the teachers disagreed with the government because instead of being paid in July 2009, as suggested by the government, the teachers wanted to be paid in January 2009.

He dismissed arguments by some that the teachers should not go on strike especially at a time of tough global economic times.

"We have been negotiating for these salaries from 14 May 2008, and if we had agreed at that time, we would have had these salaries paid last year. So it's not us choosing to go on strike. It is the government making us to go on strike. And because we have negotiating while the others are eating, that's why the teachers have said no we cannot work while the others are eating. We must go on strike to make the government make us eat," he said.

According to reports, a Kenyan Industrial Court had asked the Teachers not to go on strike. But Wesonga said the teacher did not receive any court order.

"We have heard about the court order, but we have not been served. So as far as we are concerned we are going on strike because we have not been served. When we are served, we shall decide what to do," Wesonga said.

Wesonga said he believes all the teachers are on board the decision to go on strike.

"I think all the teachers will go on strike. We are getting a lot of support, lots of declarations from those teachers saying they will go on strike, and therefore we have no doubt the success, about the percentage, about the commitment of all the teachers to go on strike," Wesonga said.