With the ongoing teachers’ strike, it’s important that key issues be dissected as this strike will largely dictate how other government employees will tackle labour relations matters.
Teachers have the right under Article 41, (5) of the Constitution, through their Kenya National Union of Teachers, to engage in collective bargaining. Further, Article 37 of the Constitution also gives them the right to demonstrate or present a petition over their pay to the government.
However, as with all human rights or labour rights, there are responsibilities and duties that come along and above all adherences to the rule of law. Rights are never absolute. Absolute rights would create a lawless and ungovernable society.
With this in mind, the approach and attitude of KNUT officials even as they demand that government meet conditions of their bargain under legal Notice of No. 534 of 1997 which was already appealed comes under serious scrutiny.
Instead of negotiating with government, they have been issuing threats, intimidating the government and this begs one question, who will they negotiate with?
Ideally, when a union fights for salary or allowances increase for their members, the law and common logic would dictate that they dialogue with their employer but in this case, these unions do not want dialogue. In return, this will have great repercussion to children in public schools as they have to remain at home due to brinkmanship and chest-thumping by these unions.
Refusal to dialogue with government is being unfair to children as they are denied their right to study inasmuch as teachers have a right to proper pay. Refusal to dialogue with a government that legally exists exposes children to a life referred as nasty and brutish by philosophy Thomas Hobbes, which would only be experienced in a society that has no government.
Therefore, KNUT must dialogue with the government for the greater good of their members and children in a framework that is developed to guide negotiations and dispute resolution and not cantered on a political approach like past negotiations. Politically agreements are unsustainable and not founded on economic reality of the day.
The 1997 agreement between teachers and their employer that has already lapsed was guided on political considerations by the then political establishment and did not engender a clear framework of labour relation between the two parties. These past negotiations and agreements have had a negative bearing on children as teachers down their tools anytime they want an increase in pay and without any reasonable notice.
This actually informs why teachers and other parties are demanding that government reallocate fifteen billion shillings, not fifty three billion shillings as stated by many, that the Parliament Budget Committee set aside for buying laptops, to teachers’ salaries. Definitely, teachers deserve an increment but it should not be at the expense of children as they too need to be acquainted with information, communication technology. On this, there is need for both parties to mutually strike a balance.
Another fundamental issue that arises in this strike is KNUT’s commitment to the rule of law and constitutional democracy. Just like their last years’ strike when they refused to obey court orders appertaining their strike, they also refused to appear before the Industrial Court last week and this raises questions about their respect to the rule of law and yet they are invoking the law in their quest for salaries and allowances increases.
There is need for these unions to observe the law as failure to do so does not promote discipline amongst children as they always do what they learn from their teachers.
Additionally, equity expects that he who comes for equity must come with clean hands but for the case of these unions, defiance and impunity is deeply embedded in their leadership. This actually justifies why the KNUT’s leaders are paid more than one million shillings every month despite drawing huge allowances of over one hundred thousand shillings weekly instead of developing human and financial capacity of their members.
In this regard, there is urgent need for these unions to accept to dialogue with the government as there is no other known legal entity that they can negotiate with so that this stalemate can be end. In any case, it’s in the interest of teachers, children and parents for these parties to negotiate and have a solution. The government must also not show intransigence in these negotiations.