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Knut, Ministry strike talks suspended

Thursday, September 6, 2012 - 00:00 -- BY HENRY WANYAMA
teachers strike
Teachers protest at the KNUT headquarters yesterday during a nation wide strike over poor pay.Photo/HEZRON NJOROGE

Negotiations to break the salary impasse went on late into the night yesterday amid fears that the deadlock would continue. The first hurdle during the meetings held at Labour minister John Munyes' office was the government's request that the teachers commit themselves to a return-to-work formula before the start of structured negotiations.

However, union officials from both Knut and Kuppet were unwilling to renounce the strike first before the government tabled its offer. Education minister Mutula Kilonzo had earlier yesterday announced that after inter-ministerial consultations, the government had decided to invite the unions for talks in order to resolve the three-day nationwide teachers strike that has delayed the opening of public schools for the third term.

Mutula said the meetings were prompted by the government's commitment to amicably resolving the strike in a structured manner. The meetings were chaired by the acting Secretary to the Cabinet and the Head of the Civil Service, Francis Kimemia, Mutula, Finance minister Njeru Githae, Public Services minister Dalmas Otieno, Attorney General Githu Muigai and Teachers Service Commission officials. They also attended the meeting at the Labour ministry.

The teachers objected to Mutula's request that they renounce the strike to allow for "structured talks" without making an offer. On the 300 per cent demand Mutula said: “There is no way that one can be achieved after the TSC Act has been assented to.” He said that although the 1997 agreement promising the increment was a legal notice, it was subservient to the TSC Act.

Apart from the 300 per cent salary increment, which is supposed to have been implemented in phases over the last 15 years, the teachers are also making other demands that are intended to harmonise their salaries with those of the other public servants. They are also demanding that their allowances be increased in line with the agreement they had signed in 1997.

Mutula has already written to the Cabinet requesting its approval for the release of Sh13 billion that would harmonise the teachers' salaries and bring them in line with other public servants. The Cabinet is due to meet today to discuss this request among other issues. Teachers were left out in the recent harmonisation of civil servants salaries recommended by Otieno. “I don’t know why he (Dalmas) decided to leave teachers out without consulting me,” Mutula said in response to questions raised by the union officials.

Following the impasse over whether or not to call off the strike before negotiations started, the meeting had not started by 7pm although it had been scheduled to start at 3 pm. At one point, Knut chairman Wilson Sossion walked out of the meeting on the 8th floor to consult with Kuppet officials who were waiting at the 7th floor.

In Parliament, MPs supported the strike and promised to pass the supplementary budget to cater for their salary increases once it was presented to Parliament. The MPs described the teachers' demands as legitimate since the government had signed a Collective Bargaining Agreement in 1997 binding itself to pay the salary increments the teachers were asking for.

The MPs accused Education minister Mutula Kilonzo of failing to show leadership and issuing threats instead of seeking dialogue between the government and the teachers' union. Moving the motion of adjournment to allow the House debate the teachers strike, Peris Chepchumba (Eldoret South) accused the government of sleeping on the job and failing to factor in the salary increments in the budget.

She said the government should consider a supplementary budget which MPs will endorse. Nominated MP Mohammed Affey said it was shameful for police to teargas and beat teachers like criminals and asked police commissioner Mathew Iteere to earnest and prosecute those caught on camera violating the teachers' right to demonstrate.

The Kisumu Town West MP Olago Aluoch described the strike as "grave" and dismissed as illegal, orders by Mutula to directors of education to identify and stop the salaries of striking teachers. Martin Ogindo (Rangwe) however opposed a proposal that a supplementary budget be introduced in the House to cater for the demanded salary increases since it will not address where the money will be coming from in the subsequent budget allocations. He urged for compromise between the teachers and the government.