As schools reopened for the final term of the year yesterday, teachers in Kenya made good their threat to go on a national strike in demand for a 300 per cent salary increase. Following the education minister’s ban on holiday tuition (see Forum posting, ‘Parenting in Kenya: Absentee Parents and Holiday Tuition’, 23 August), the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) had threatened to boycott classes when schools open for the third term.
The strike is considered illegal since a restraining order on the same was issued by Industrial Court Judge, Byrum Ongaya. The court order restrains teachers from going on with the strike or inciting others to participate until the case filed by the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) is heard.
Meanwhile, however, teachers in Kisii, Bungoma, Nakuru and Kisumu among others downed their tools yesterday morning (that is put down their pieces of chalk, if their school was lucky enough to have chalk) and took to the streets in protests. Those who ignored the call, including head teachers who were sitting their promotion exams on schools administration and management, were ejected from examination halls in various centres.
IS THE STRIKE LEGAL OR NOT?
According to Mr Chitu Gwengwele KNUT Executive Secretary in Kilifi County, the strike is legal according to Section 41 of the Constitution which says after an agreement fails to materialise between employer and employee, the former has the right to resort to a strike, adding that the strike was 100 per cent successful in the area.
“BLACKMAILING THE COUNTRY” SAYS KILONZO
On his part, speaking on an interview with The Star, the Minister of Education, Mutula Kilonzo, maintained that even though the notice of a strike is a constitutional right under Article 41, it has no basis. “It ignores existing mechanisms for improving teachers’ benefits and harmonisation with other Kenyan workers, which I support” said Kilonzo, “I wish they were threatening a strike on basis of policies I have tabled instead of blackmailing the country because of the tuition ban.”
Minister Kilonzo also called on the judiciary to take action against teachers who were disobeying the court order cancelling the strike. “The judiciary must use this window presented by the teachers’ union to put its foot down and say enough is enough”, he said.
TEACHERS’ UNTIMELY STRIKES
Teachers in Kenya are known to go on untimely strikes especially during the onset of the third term, normally considered as the most crucial term of the school year since national exams usually commence in a month’s time after schools open.
Around the same time Last year, Classrooms remained locked for more than 10 million students when about 200,000 members of the Kenya National Union of Teachers went on a national strike, calling for recruitment of 28,000 more teachers.
University lecturers who are members of the University Academic Staff Union (UASU) have also threatened to begin their strike tomorrow and are to be joined by members of the Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (KUPPET)
Well it is a constitutional right for teachers to demand for better pay and favorable working conditions but it is also a constitutional right for children to have an education. The strike may be a form of “blackmail” as Mutula Kilonzo described it, certainly the timing of their strikes really leaves a lot to be desired. Either way it is the children who suffer.