Learning in public schools is, for the second time this year, set to be paralysed on Monday after teachers said they would not report to work over a protracted pay dispute with the government.
Schools were expected to re-open for the crucial third term at the end of which thousands of learners are expected to take their Standard Eight and Form Four national examinations.
On Saturday, parents and school heads were hoping for an amicable resolution to the crisis. The parents went ahead with shopping in readiness for the new term.
On Monday, the Supreme Court told the government to pay the 50 to 60 per cent pay increase awarded by a lower court.
And based on that, the unions have stood their ground that teachers would only return to class after enforcement of the pay order. The matter is, however, pending appeal by TSC.
On Friday, Deputy President William Ruto asked teachers to be patient as the government seeks funds to pay them. “We have to wait for a clear assessment to be done before any discussion,” Mr Ruto said.
On Tuesday, the Treasury Principal Secretary, Dr Kamau Thugge, had said the government had the option of increasing taxes to raise the extra money needed to pay teachers.
Another consideration would be to cut the development budget to pay the salaries.
National Assembly Budget Committee chairman Mutava Musyimi complicated the matter when he said teachers should not get a pay rise because they refused to sign performance contracts and routinely skip work.
But on Saturday, Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) Secretary-General Wilson Sossion warned that any further legal challenge by the government to slow the process would throw the education sector into a period of unprecedented chaos.
“We have asked our teachers to stay at home until a time when the government will pay them the increase,” said Mr Sossion, insisting that there will be no further engagement with the State on the issue.
However, sources within the government indicated that the salary increase may not be implemented due to the tough economic environment.
“Yes, we wish to pay the teachers but where do we get the money to pay them? The government has no money at all,” said a senior government official, who requested anonymity.
Other sources said the government will only be able to consider the teachers’ demand in the next financial year.
The Teachers’ Service Commission (TSC) has indicated that it will require Sh17 billion each year to effect the new basic pay, which translates to Sh72 billion for four years backdated to 2013.
This also means that it requires about Sh1.4 billion per month to effect the increase. Currently Sh8.8 billion is spent on teachers’ salaries per month.
In total, TSC spends about Sh174 billion to pay teachers salaries and allowances a year, of which Sh106 billion is basic salary. About Sh64 billion goes to allowances while Sh4 billion is allocated for promotions and recruitment of teachers.
But Knut and the Kenya Union of Post Primary Teachers (Kuppet) have asked their members to stay away from work if they will not have received the increase.
At the same time, the teachers’ commission is likely to ask the Supreme Court in the next few days seeking to review its ruling. It will base its request on grounds that the judges had ruled that the appeal was not properly filed.
The commission’s lawyers had emphasised that they had filed a proper appeal before the Supreme Court and, according to them, the judges erred when they reached such a conclusion.
Said Mr Sossion: “We are not aware of any appeal and let us treat it as a rumour. We met TSC last week and they committed themselves that they will not appeal. It is them who invited us.”
He said the commission also told Knut that it had written to the Treasury seeking additional funds.
“They will have to call us and tell us why they want to change their position,” said Mr Sossion.
The crisis has thrown the education sector into a state of panic, which has been the norm since President Daniel Moi awarded teachers a post-dated 200 per cent pay rise before the 1997 elections.
Parents are waiting anxiously to see what unfolds as many had expected their children to begin a new term this week. Those with children in boarding schools are particularly in a dilemma as to whether to release their children or not.
On Saturday, Mr Sossion told the government to use the money it has allocated to TSC to pay the teachers and seek a supplementary budget in the last quarter of the year.
This financial year, the government allocated TSC Sh181 billion.
“No one should tell you that the government has no money. TSC has a budget to run for a whole year. Let them use the budget to pay teachers now,” he said.
He went on: “Let them pay us and seal all loopholes in tax evasion which cost this country Sh137 billion annually.”
Mr Sossion said the government and TSC had an opportunity to engage the teachers but threw it away.
The Knut secretary-general said the union leaders have been advised not to issue a strike notice, but he would not explain further.
“We have been duly advised by our legal team that the matter is still actively in court. We will stay away from school starting Monday,” said Mr Sossion.
Two weeks ago, the union’s top decision-making organ, the national executive council, met and endorsed the teachers’ strike.
Mr Sossion said the union had held 26 meetings with the government over the same issue and that more meetings would add no value.
TREATED LIKE SLAVES
Kuppet Secretary-General Akelo Misori said teachers have been treated like slaves and will not accept to be discriminated against any more.
“There will be no teachers in schools on Monday and, for the first time, the country will realise the value of teachers,” Mr Misori said, adding that avenues for dialogue had been exhausted.
He said the teachers have no time to talk about a court order and instead asked the government to respect it.
“Education is important in the development of this country and we cannot ignore it any more,” said the Kuppet secretary-general.
Lawyers for the teachers have also threatened to start contempt of court proceedings against TSC if payments will not have been effected by August 31.
But TSC lawyer Stella Rutto warned the union’s lawyers against issuing threats while demanding the increment awarded by the Court of Appeal.
“It is unbecoming to utter unnecessary threats, which merely obscure issues and do not advance the rule of law,” she said. “You are also aware that these processes are guided by the Constitution.”
The Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) has also insisted that teachers do not deserve a salary increase.
Chairperson Sarah Serem said in the three years of its existence, the commission has ensured that no public servant is unfairly disadvantaged in remuneration and the teachers enjoy a slight advantage over other civil servants.
The teachers’ award was issued in June. TSC then moved to the Court of Appeal in protest at the decision. The court directed that the salary be paid in August but the commission once again moved to the Supreme Court where it unsuccessfully challenged the award.
In January, teachers went on strike for two weeks after they turned down a Sh9.3 billion offer from the government in settlement of their house allowance, hardship allowance and leave allowance, insisting that they wanted a basic salary increase.