Teachers’ pay stalemate can be resolved constitutionally

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JOHN HARRINGTON NDETA

Every September seems to be a prime time for teachers to pressure their employer over better pay. Last year it was the same, in 2009 it was worse and every election year it recurs.

Teachers at primary and secondary level of education are once again flexing their muscles for the full implementation of the salary package negotiated in 1997 and 2009 respectively. The 1997 package was to be implemented in three phases and thus far, teachers claim that the government is reneging on its promise.

In 15 years, a lot has changed. Kenya today has expanded democratic space that has begotten a new constitutional dispensation setting in place a host of institutional and societal reforms.

The education sector is one area that has not been left behind, although the changes may be gradual. Following the adoption of a new constitution in 2010, the Ministry of Education has set the ball rolling and is in the process of addressing issues that have hitherto remained thorny in the education sector. The Education Bill 2012 awaiting to be tabled in Parliament is a good example of work in progress.

The Constitution of Kenya 2010 sets out other key institutions including the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) established in Article 263 Part 6, (25). The commission chaired by Sarah Serem was constituted in the open with those aspiring to be commissioners being screened in public.

The SRC was set up to especially address the current and rampant strikes that not only hurt the economy but disrupt lives and continuity of learning across the country. The commission is mandated to set and regularly review the remuneration and benefits of all State officers and advise the national and county governments on the remuneration and benefits of all public officers.

In coming up with its considerations; SRC is supposed to hinge its decisions on social, economic and environmental factors and results of job evaluation and key elements of pay consideration including sustainability.

Chapter 13 of the constitution article 232 is on the public service and other than the Public Service Commission, the only other commission to be enshrined in the constitution under public service is the Teachers Service Commission. Part 3 of Chapter 13 article 237 spells out the Teachers Services Commission, its functions including advising government on matters relating to the teaching profession. These matters include but are not limited to salaries, staffing and training of teachers.

My understanding is that these issues go hand in hand. TSC in my view needs to be restructured to be more responsive to these constitutional provisions. Other than priding itself as the employer of teachers, TSC should go several steps ahead to appropriate teachers’ issues with the best interest of teachers at heart.

Unlike the Salaries and Remuneration Commission whose mandate is to advise the government on harmonization salaries for Kenya’s workforce, the TSC has very specific roles.

When TSC allows primary school teachers to enrol for degree course, graduate and continue teaching at the primary school level while drawing a graduate’s salary, isn’t this setting the stage for contestations? A primary school teacher with high qualifications like a degree and above may be good enough for quality but this affects the education sector in two ways.

First, the salaries drawn by an experienced graduate teacher at the primary level could sustain at least 2 P1 or diploma teachers. This translates into understaffing, overloading hence deteriorating educational standards in public schools.

Secondly, paying primary school teachers a graduate’s salary impacts on the national budgets but greatly inflating the recurrent expenditure. Current demands by KNUT and KUPPET if acceded to by government could see annual budgets for teachers go up by over Sh37 billion and Sh13 billion respectively.

If we have to get a required teacher-to-pupil ratio with all primary schools having graduate teachers, the salaries will not only be unbearable but unsustainable to the country’s economy.

This explains why the government is reluctant to implement a better package for teachers. But in all this, the buck stops with TSC. If TSC was doing its work without compromising standards for the good of a few, I don’t think it will be difficult to attain a better pay for teachers at various levels while sustaining high standards of education.

Chapter 15 enumerates 10 constitutional commissions where the three discussed above are all considered independently.

So while all teachers are considered public servants, the teachers should and indeed have their own commission; the Teachers Service Commission which should take care of their issues. TSC should set out well considered terms and conditions for teachers before advising the government on what is favourable to all parties. The government also gets advice, at least in the new constitutional dispensation, on issues of salaries from the Salaries and Remuneration Commission.

So in essence, the negotiations should not be between teachers and the Salaries and Remuneration Commission, but between the teachers’ unions and the TSC on one hand and then TSC takes these issues to the government.

The government then should use standards set out by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission to fix a harmonised and favourable pay package for teachers.

The Constitution thus provides a framework to resolving not just the teacher’s pay squabbles but all other complaints from workers due to poor wages. All we need is to ensure that we have proper functional structures, systems, commission and bodies as spelled out in the constitution.

The writer is a Knowledge Management Officer, PeaceNet Kenya

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