Members of the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) are scheduled to resume negotiations with the government Tuesday to press home their demands for better living conditions, according to Wilson Sossion, chairman of the teachers group. As part of the negotiations, government officials are expected to table a proposal to meet teachers’ demand for increased pay.
Education Cabinet Secretary Jacob Kaimenyi expressed worry some people are unduly pressuring the teachers union to embark on an indefinite strike action, despite government efforts to address their demands for better working conditions as negotiations begin this week.
But Sossion said Kaimenyi’s statement is ill advised. He insists the teachers union has the right to negotiate with the Teachers Service Commission, an independent body, as stipulated in the constitution.
“Under the constitution, the current Cabinet secretary for education has no mandate at all on matters of negotiations, therefore, he is a stranger in this business and his comments are mischievous,” said Sossion.
Sossion said the KNUT will not take an indefinite strike action off the table because the government has failed to keep its part of an agreement signed a year ago, which stipulated the talks to improve teachers living conditions be concluded within 90 days. The agreement was signed on July 18, 2013.
“We are deeply disappointed that we have been unable to conclude that. The talks have dragged on and we had a meeting and we insisted that these talks must come to an end, so that we are in absolute consonance with the law and also the cycles of negotiations,” he said.
“We are not ruling out strike option, because we have been negotiating for far too long,” said Sossion. “We believe government is deliberately buying time and it does not want to commit herself even to the agreement that we signed with them, and that leaves us with no better option. The only known weapon for workers [the] world over to effectively deal with a hostile employer is to resort to a strike option, and that we are not ruling out.”
Sossion warned his organization could be forced to embark on a strike if the administration fails to propose an “acceptable” offer to the teachers.
“Because government sends a very poor negotiating team to the negotiation table, and so we have indicated that it is in the interest of the sector for these talks to come to an end, and an agreement be agreed upon,” said Sossion.
“Therefore it is incumbent upon government to table an acceptable offer next Tuesday. If they do not, then the constitution and the Labor Relations Act give us the right and the opportunity to utilize other avenues including withdrawal of labor,” he said.