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Ongeri passes the strike buck to Munyes

NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 7 – The Government is considering Industrial Court arbitration to avert a teachers’ strike after talks with the Kenya National Union of Teachers over salaries collapsed on Tuesday.

In what he termed as his final appeal to the union on Wednesday, Education Minister Professor Sam Ongeri said he would have no alternative but to refer the matter to the Labour Minister John Munyes for further direction unless the union accepted the government’s offer.

Ongeri remained adamant that the government could only afford to stagger the intended 35 percent pay rise over a three year period owing to budgetary constraints.

“In the absence of them accepting the appeal I will now refer the matter to the Minister for Labour. My story is over unless they come back,” he said terming his effort ‘a pursuit of industrial harmony’.

The teachers’ union rejected a government plan that would have seen the state spend Sh17.3 billion over the next three years, to award increases of between 18 and 35 percent for teachers in grades P1, P2, AT3 and AT4.

A three-hour-long crisis meeting called by Minister Sam Ongeri on Tuesday failed to break the deadlock, even after the government relented from an earlier stance of six phases of implementation to three phases.

At a hurriedly convened news conference after the failed talks, the KNUT Secretary General Lawrence Majali insisted that teachers would only accept payment of the pay rise in one lump sum and not the three years on the table. The union also wanted the increases of the lower grades set at 35 percent for all the four groups.

Mr Majali remained defiant: “We have rejected what the minister has offered.”

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KNUT insist that their January 19 strike holds unless the government changes its mind.

Under the new arrangement the lowest paid teacher would take home Sh13,750 up from Sh10,000. Graduate teachers would on the other hand have their salaries harmonised with their counterparts in the civil service. A chief principal, who is the highest paid teacher will then take home Sh120,000 after the harmonisation, up from Sh49,000.

Prof Ongeri accused KNUT of refusing to cede substantial ground in the consultations.

He however assured that the government would ensure the safety of the pupils.

“Our core function is to ensure that normal learning will take place. When we reach that position (strike) and because learning must continue then I will announce other measures,” he said.

“This will ultimately come to an end,” he said warning the union that if the matter goes on to the industrial court, the current deal would not be on the table.

The decision to harmonise the perks of senior teachers favours the Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (KUPPET), another union that has also threatened to go on strike next week Thursday.

KUPPET has been pushing for the harmonisation of their members as promised by the government last year, but KNUT whose bulk of members fall under the lower groups has sought for a wholesale review.
KNUT has a membership of more than 240,000 representing close to 80 percent of the entire teaching fraternity, while KUPPET has a mere 23 percent.

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