Teachers will this morning stay away from their classrooms even as thousands of children return to school for the third and final term. The Kenya National Union of Teachers chairman Wilson Sossion said the Industrial Court orders declaring the teachers' strike illegal were null and void.
"The orders to us are immaterial. The strike is on in full," Sossion said. He said the decision by the Teachers Service Commission to go to court had angered the teachers resolve to continue with their industrial action and to add new demands which they want to be met before they can go back to class.
The countrywide strike is ask being supported by the rival union-Kuppet- whose secretary general Akelo Misori who appealed to stay out until their demands are met. Threats of disciplinary action by theTeachers Service Commission secretary Gabriel Lengoibon do not seem to have had any impact as the union leaders said all their members will take part in the strike.
The union leaders have also said they will ignore appeals from the parents associations whose chairman Musau Ndunda said the strike would ruin the future of the pupils and students who are preparing to write their final examinations in a month's time. Education minister Mutula Kilonzo said he expected schools to open today as usual. The union's decision to defy the court order would be a show of impunity which cannot be allowed.
"The timing, the approach and procedure by the unions is archaic and belongs to 1960s. I agree with them that there is need to harmonise their salaries with the rest of civil servants. That is what we and TSC are doing by instituting the reforms. A court order is a court order and must be respected. The teachers are professionals who should know better. The constitution provides them with the right to go on strike, but it also protects the rights of children. These are the rights which the court has upheld by declaring the strike illegal. They should go to court and argue for alternative orders instead of defying the court order," he said.
Last Friday, Industrial Court Judge Byrum Ongaya issued orders restraining teachers from taking part in or calling or inciting others to take part in the strike until the case filed Teacher Service Commission which is scheduled for hearing on September 4 on their pay is resolved.
"We are not going to allow the government to hide behind the courts to evade its obligations and deny teachers their constitutional rights of better pay, and their right to organize. We were being lenient and generous when we were demanding that the government give us a 300 per cent salary increment. But the decision to go tp court makes us demand payment in full as a pre-condition before our members go back to class,"said Sossion.
Apart from the 300 percent salary increment and a responsibility allowance of between 30and 50 per cent for principals, head teachers, deputies and senior teachers as well departmental heads, Sossion said the union will now be demanding the payment of Sh33 billion accrued pension to more than 52, 000 retired teachers.
The Salaries and Remuneration Commission chairperson Sarah Serem has appealed to the terachers and doctors -who have also threatened to go on strike- to negotiate with the government or seek legal action instead of going on strike. "We urge the parties involved to exhaust all the avenues provided for addressing the matter," Serem said adding industrial unrests were costly and hurt the economy.
She said the teachers had not exhausted all the avenues available. The Teachers Service Act which was enacted barely eight days ago which proposes the establishment of a commission and relevant administrative structures to allow negotiations between teachers and employers will be established early this week.
"We have informed the teachers, their union officials and the public about this. But if they want to go on strike before we can sit down and negotiate then their motive is mischievous and out to hurt the Kenyan child. Those who fail to report to school will face disciplinary action including not being paid for the time they will away from school," PS Lengoibon said.
The union officials were adamant they would go ahead with the strike and described the court orders as a 'political gimmick."How can such an order be issued in the middle of the strike? We issued a seven day notice that expired on August 27 indicating that the strike has been on since last week," said the Knut Mombasa county secretary Dan Aloo. He said the annual national headteachers conference expected to commence this morning will also be postponed to allow primary head teachers to take part in the strike.