, NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 10 – A strike by lecturers in public universities entered its second day on Thursday as the University Academic Staff Union (UASU) vowed to ignore a directive by the government to resume duties.
UASU Secretary General Muga Kolale told Capital News on phone that none of the three unions would call off the strike despite Wednesday’s declaration by the courts that the strike was illegal.
Kolale said that the unions were still mobilising members to fully participate in their demand for better pay and were awaiting counter proposals by the government.
Kolale said: “We had genuine grievances and the strike is constitutional. Court orders will not stop the strike. No university staff is working and we expect universities to close. The strike will continue until we get satisfactory counter proposals from the government.”
Kolale said that unions were still consulting their legal teams and will seek an interpretation of the Constitution on the illegality of the strike at a later date.
“The unions are consulting and we are going to challenge aspects of illegality as demonstrated by the government in court; nobody is going to explain away the strike,” he reiterated.
The Higher Education Minister on Wednesday declared the ongoing strike by university staff illegal and ordered them to resume teaching immediately.
The Federation of Kenyan Employers went to court seeking to stop the strike arguing that university councils were ready for negotiations.
Higher Education Minister Margaret Kamar said all university staff participating in the industrial action should return to work and resume negotiations.
She said that the three unions representing university staff also had the option to wait for government to establish the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC), which will oversee the restructuring of their pay.
She said: “As a ministry we will continue to be between treasury and the universities so I appeal to the three unions to go back to work as the strike has been declared illegal. It is the only way to negotiations.”
“It is a bit disturbing that they have based their strike on new demand that they want their salaries to be negotiated by the Ministry of State for Public service yet this process will take long as the SRC is not yet instituted,” she added.
“The unions are locking themselves out of the negotiations. No one has locked them out,” she reiterated.
Learning was first disrupted on Wednesday as university teaching and non-teaching staff kept off their work stations.
Kamar who issued the statement in her office, accompanied by chancellors of public universities accused UASU of making the negotiations difficult by shifting demands and misleading the other two unions.
“It is unfair for one union (UASU) to mislead other unions who should be headed to Kisumu to negotiate not updating them of developments,” she said adding that the Kolale had left her office in a hurry previously when he was scheduled to hold talks.
According the minister, a timetable had been set for negotiations with UASU being the first union called for three days beginning Tuesday while the other two were also scheduled for negotiations later this week.
The inter-Public Universities Councils Consultative Forum (IPPUCCF) had been set up to jump-start negotiations that stalled following two circulars from Treasury and the Head of Public Service.
“UASU was to have negotiations from Tuesday to Thursday, while the other unions were to go through up to 14th of November. Negotiating teams have been in Kisumu since Tuesday waiting, sadly no union has shown up,” she said.
Kamar explained that Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta had in his circular in April 2010 frozen new wage negotiations for public sector, while Muthaura in May this year directed that no salary reviews for public servants would be conducted until the Salaries and Remunerations Commission is instituted.
She said the two circulars had stalled negotiations, until she petitioned Civil Service Chief Francis Muthaura who allowed the negotiations for universities’ staff to continue.
Kamar urged the lecturers to resume negotiations in order to avoid disrupting the academic timetable universities.
“Universities have done what they are supposed to do opening the doors for negotiations and it is only right for the courts to give universities this reprieve, she stated.
Higher Education Assistant Minister Kilemi Mwiria also expressed fears that the crisis in universities will affect the success of the double intake programme.