NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 18 – Teachers look all set to go on with their nationwide strike on Monday after officials from the national union snubbed a last-ditch attempt by the Education Ministry to thrash out a conclusive deal on their promised pay-hike.,
In the meeting slated for Sunday afternoon, Education Minister Sam Ongeri and Kenya National Union of Teachers’ representatives were expected to sign a Memorandum of Understanding for the disputed pay rise to be paid in three phases.
But Mr Ongeri said the KNUT officials failed to show up and efforts to reach them on phone were futile.
The Minister branded the strike as illegal and promised that they were ready to take tough action against the teachers who proceed on strike.
“The employer is entitled to take the proper disciplinary action against any person who takes part in the illegal strike. The employer will also withhold the salary and all other benefits of any teacher who takes part,” he warned.
Mr Ongeri said the government had done its best by offering a Sh17 billion pay deal to be implemented in three phases, which he said was the highest figure ever granted to any institution after negotiations with the government.
“In awarding salaries to employees of various government organisations, one takes into account how the economy is performing.”
“Initially, the offer on the table was to be implemented in six years, they (Union) rejected the offer at five years and then through extensive government consultations, it was reduced to four years and at further intervention, the ministry reduced it to three years,” he laid down
The major issues in contention are the harmonisation of teachers’ salaries with those of other civil servants, a phased implementation of the pay hike and effective dates of implementation.
The Minister had on Friday written a proposal to KNUT which it was supposed to respond to in writing or physically show up on Sunday, but the union has done neither.
“Kenyans ought to know that there have been several informal meetings going on till late in the night in order to broker an acceptable solution to this problem – and the latest being that KNUT on its own proposed a payment schedule in three instalments of 35 percent, 35 percent and 30 percent which the government accepted and prepared an implementation schedule,” he revealed.
The Minister added that the same was communicated to the union in writing on Friday and they were requested to react to the proposal in writing and he offered to meet with them Sunday afternoon (2pm)
“We were all (Ministry officials) here by 1pm; it’s now past 4pm and because the Kenyan public has interest to know the fate of these negotiations, I am now obliged as the Minister for Education to issue the government position.”
The government and KNUT have been engaged in a showdown since 1997 when they negotiated for a pay rise that was to be implemented in phases, but the government did keep their part of the deal.
Meanwhile, two KNUT officials and one teacher in Meru South were arrested on Sunday afternoon for alleged incitement, and locked up at Chuka police station.
They were arrested while driving around in a car fitted with a Public Address system, encouraging teachers not to cowed into going to work on Monday, and asking them to proceed with the strike.
The trio was arrested in Chuka town at about 3pm and an attempt by about 50 teachers to demand their unconditional release flopped after the Chuka Officer Commanding Station turned them away, telling them to seek audience with the area police boss Tom Mutisya.
Mr Mutisya said the three would be charged on Monday with incitement.
Teachers have vowed to go on with the strike and several officials of KNUT have called on parents not to take their children to school on Monday.
But at the same time, the Teachers’ Service Commission has declared the mass action illegal and has obtained a court order restraining KNUT from holding a nationwide strike that is scheduled to start on Monday.
The Industrial Court issued the injunction blocking the strike until a case regarding a raging salary dispute before the court is heard and determined on Tuesday.
“The applicant is listed for hearing, before Judge Isaac Mukunya on 20th January 2009 at 2.15pm,” read in part the notice signed by the court’s Registrar Hellen Wasilwa.
TSC moved to court on Friday under a certificate of urgency to restrain the Union from calling on its members, employees of the commission, to join in the strike.
However court process servers, who had gone to serve the union’s officials on Saturday morning, pasted the notice on the main entrance of the KNUT headquarters after they were denied entry.
“We came to serve the order from the Industrial Court, which is barring KNUT from the strike scheduled for 19th (of January) but we don’t have access to the premises,” one of the court servers complained.
The development came a day after a ‘Conciliation Committee’ was appointed by Labour Minister John Munyes to arbitrate the teachers pay dispute.