Higher learning in disarray 50 days into lecturers’ strike

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Learning in public universities remains in disarray 50 days after the Universities Academic Staff Union (UASU) instructed lecturers to down their tools over stalled Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) talks.

The latest strike that has affected the January-April semester was precipitated by a missed deadline for the negotiation of the 2017-2021 CBA, a deadline set on December 9 last year when UASU called off a third strike in the year protesting the non-implementation of a Sh10 billion 2013-2017 CBA inked on March 13 following a 54-day strike.According to a return-to-work formula agreed upon between UASU and the Inter-Public Universities Councils’ Consultative Forum (IPUCCF) on December 9 last year, the deliberations for the new CBA were to commence on December 18, the due date having been set at January 31.

Capital FM News however established on Wednesday that talks between UASU and IPUCCF had stalled, with a court-appointed conciliator seeking for a review of the rules of engagement.

In a letter dated April 16, Hellen Apiyo, a Senior Assistant Labour Commissioner, expressed concerns over the constitution of the IPUCCF negotiation team saying it needed to be reviewed.

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“IPUCCF needs to review and constitute its negotiation team, with a view to assisting teams currently in place to include a select team of chairpersons of Human Resources Committee from the thirty-seven council members of the IPUCCF,” she wrote.

In the report addressed to Employment and Labour Relations Court Judge Onesmus Makau who had in a ruling on March 16 referred the industrial dispute to the Cabinet Secretary in Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, Ukur Yattani, for resolution within sixty days, Apiyo also recommended the involvement of the National Treasury, the Ministry of Education and the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) to expedite the CBA talks.

According to Apiyo, IPUCCF and UASU had only agreed on the retirement age of lectures following three conciliation meetings, the first held on March 23, the second on April 12, and the third on April 14.

UASU is said to have conceded to having the retirement age of lectures set at 72 after unsuccessfully fronting 75 as its preferred mandatory retirement age for dons.

The lecturers’ union however registered displeasure in the failure by IPUCCF to table an offer on the 2017-2021 CBA with an offer presented during the third meeting only addressing non-monetary issues.

While addressing the press on Wednesday ahead of a routine demonstration to the Ministry of Education headquarters, lecturers’ union leaders insisted they would not renege on their push for the new CBA despite numerous attempts by university councils to restore learning.

UASU Secretary General Constantine Wasonga insisted on the need to have a counter offer before the current strike which commenced on March 1 is called off saying the union could consider suspending the strike once the document is availed at a Return to Work Formula crafted.

“On Thursday last week when we appeared before the National Assembly Education Committee we were vindicated when a Vice Chancellor admitted that only net salaries were being paid which the means other statutory deductions were not being remitted. This is criminal!” Wasonga charged.

He dismissed reports that leaning has been going on in public universities terming a circular issued by the University of Nairobi Deputy Vice-Chancellor in charge of Academic Affairs, Prof Henry Mutoro, asking students to avail themselves for classes as deceptive and misleading.

“Vice Chancellors are cheating parents and students! They want students to report so that they can pay school fees and the send them away,” Wasonga said adding that the strike was not ending soon.

“Wait for my signal which I predict might take one to two years. This strike is not ending soon,” he stated.

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UASU Chairperson Muga K’olale blamed the ongoing strike to inaction by Education Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed and Principal Secretary State Department for University Education and Research Prof Japhet Ntiba, saying the two had proven to be incapable of manning the education docket.

“Education ministry officials are arrogant, pretentious, heartless and unequal to the task. While CS Matiangi was untenable, CS Amina and PS Ntiba are malleable, manipulable, and irrelevant quantities to higher education,” the union boss told striking university workers assembled at the University of Nairobi’s Chancellor’s Court.

The University of Nairobi had issued a circular on Tuesday telling students to attend their respective classes without failing.

“The University Senate meeting held on 16th April 2018 reviewed the status of teaching and learning at the University. It was noted that good progress has been made towards resumption and attendance of classes at various Colleges in spite of the interruption by the striking staff,” the circular from the Deputy Vice-Chancellor in charge of Academic Affairs read.

“Please note that classes will proceed as scheduled and there will be no makeup class for students who do not attend their lectures as required. Class attendance will be taken,” it further read.

A spot-check at the at the institution, however, showed learning activities were yet to be fully restored with students complaining that some of their lectures were yet to turn up for scheduled classes.

Non-teaching staff remained largely on go-slows with services such as an ongoing biometric registration of students in some of the faculties remaining inaccessible.

Students at the institution were mainly found in computer labs working on assignments and term papers.

“We don’t have a choice. We’ve been showing up for classes but the truth is most lecturers have been missing,” a student at the University of Nairobi who declined to be named told Capital FM. In Maasai Mara University, students have been asked to report for exams despite the disruption of learning owing to the ongoing strike.

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This article was written by Jeremiah Wakaya and was published on Capital News. 

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