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Kenya Teachers Union Backs Strike Action

An instructor teaches students in Lodwar, Turkana, Kenya. He supplements his teachers salary with a small shop managed by him and his wife. (K. Prinsloo/ ARETE/UNESCO)

The chairman of the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) says the country’s teachers will not return to the classrooms until the government increases their pay as ordered by a recent court ruling.

Mudzo Nzili says President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration has yet to show any commitment or the political will to meet teachers’ demands, despite repeated warnings from the teachers union.

His comments came after the Supreme Court declined to block teachers’ pay increase demands. A court ordered the teachers be awarded a 50 to 60 percent pay increase, but the government says it cannot afford the increase.

Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich was quoted by local media as saying the administration is unable to raise the nearly $163,000,000 required to meet the order granted by the Employment and Labor Relations court.

Union chairman Nzili says the government’s pronouncement shows a lack of commitment to pay teachers their due.

“This good government of Kenya has a lot of money. It may only not have settled on payment because they are not willing, but the moment they begin to take interest they will do it because they could not have bailed out Mumia Sugar Factory, Anglo Leasing and others, which needed money without prior budgeting of billions ... So the argument has no money, does not hold water,” said Nzili.

He also says the union executive leadership decided at a meeting Wednesday to back the teachers' strike action.

“The teachers started their strike before us on Monday because they have been following the court process ... Finding that the government had not factored that money, the teachers decided to boycott classes. And so today, the national executive council sat and ratified the action by the teachers to continue demanding what was rightfully given by the Supreme Court,” said Nzili.

Parents have urged the two parties to resolve the impasse to enable their children to go back to school. They contend the children would be adversely affected by the ongoing strike. Nzili says there is a need for the government to obey the ruling of the court to end the stalemate before teachers would return to the classrooms.

“The learned judges of the Supreme Court took into consideration the economic situation of the country and the sustainability of the demand, and therefore we expect the government to find the ways and means of complying with the court order ... We have every confidence that the government will try to save the situation and rescue the dwindling education sector in Kenya,” said Nzili.

Supporters of the government asked the teachers to give the administration time to come up with the funds to help meet their demands. They called on the union leadership to negotiate with the government to end the impasse. But Nzili disagreed, saying the government has been aware of their demands since January, but failed to budget for it.

“We need commitment. We need some people to come and say we are committed to pay and we shall pay like this. But we cannot be lost in the woods and seek for any negotiation from people who have themselves not initiated negotiations. And in any case, a court order is not negotiable,” said Nzili.