NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 20 – The fate of pupils in Kenyan schools was on Tuesday left in abeyance after the government and the Kenya National Union of Teachers both dug deeper into their positions, after they refused to budge in finding a solution to the ongoing strike that has paralysed learning across the country.,
Whereas the government insisted that it could not pay the Sh19 billion sought lump sum, KNUT officials insisted it was simply that or nothing else.
“We in the education sector stand ready to pay all the money we receive in the shortest time possible. However if the money is not available there will be no payment with or without the strike, regardless of the name of the person managing the sector,” Education Minister Sam Ongeri said in a ministerial statement he delivered in parliament.
Prof Ongeri said the strike would not achieve anything as the economy could not support the teachers’ demands.
“Instead of people spending time burning my portraits, I think they should be looking at the economy and see how it performing,” he said adding that the Treasury had told him it could not shoulder the Sh19 billion burden at a go.
He spoke hours after Acting Finance Minister John Michuki called a news conference where he told off the teachers and termed their pay demands ‘unrealistic’ in view of the country’s tough economic period.
He said the government’s priority at the moment was the food crisis affecting some 10 million Kenyans. He said the strike was politically-motivated and warned those participating not to expect their pay at the end of the month.
“All the scenarios of our economy we have evaluated demonstrate that we cannot meet the demands made by teachers,” Mr Michuki said.
But the Kenya Union of Teacher (KNUT) Secretary General Lawrence Majali stuck to his guns and said the teachers would not be cowed by threats of dismissal and loss of their dues.
“Nobody should scare you with dismissal threats,” he said in his message to the teachers. “We followed the due process of the law in calling this strike.”
Mr Majali reiterated that the union would not accept to be paid in phases but was willing to wait until July this year for a one-off payment, in an apparent change of tact from their earlier stand.
“It is our solidarity that will make this government act,” Mr Majali said and appealed to the teachers to remain vigilant in the boycott.
The union rejected the government’s offer of Sh17.3 billion to be paid over a three year period and mobilised its members to boycott work from Monday. Not even a court order published in the dailies could deter them.
On Tuesday, KNUT snubbed a court hearing claiming they were not aware of the case, prompting the judge in the case to order the Teacher Service Commission to serve notice of another hearing this week through a newspaper advertisement.
Justice Isaac Mukunya of the Industrial court ordered that the parties appear before him on Friday morning for the case. Lawyers for TSC and the Kenya Federation of Workers told Justice Mukunya that they had unsuccessfully tried to personally serve union officials as the doors at their offices remained closed.
Mr Majali had earlier in the day termed the court hearing ‘a rumour going round.’
The strike was due to enter its third day on Wednesday, and not even a headcount ordered by TSC could deter the teachers. Most schools across the country remained empty as parents withdrew their children.
TSC Secretary Gabriel Lengoiboni had on Monday directed principals to conduct a headcount and relay the information to him by the close of business on Wednesday. Mr Lengoiboni said the Commission was in the process of drafting letters for striking teachers to show cause why they should not be sacked.