Anxiety as Knut officials meet to discuss pay offer

A showdown is looming in the country’s biggest teachers union ahead of a crucial meeting that will decide whether to approve or reject a deal offered by the government on their salaries.

The National Executive Committee of the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) will meet on Tuesday to discuss the agreement reached between their leaders and President Uhuru Kenyatta at State House, Nairobi.

According to the agreement, teachers will be paid their withheld September salaries in exchange for giving up the battle for the 50-60 per cent pay increase awarded by a Labour Court and reversed by the Court of Appeal.

They should withdraw all court cases and start fresh talks for an agreement with their employer, which must involve the Salaries Remuneration Commission.

Interviews with Knut branch officials who will form the bulk of delegates coming to the meeting in Nairobi reveal sharp divisions between those who support the deal and those against.

Those opposed said the Teachers Service Commission was an independent constitutional body and the president had no power to order it around on teachers pay.

And in any case, a court ordered the commission to pay teachers their September salaries and the president should have only advised it to obey the law.

Some executive committee members say the top union officials who visited State House Nairobi and agreed to the deal should not have done so.

Among them is Secretary-General Wilson Sossion who did not go to State House.

Those at the meeting were Chairman Mudzo Nzili, acting national treasurer John Matiang’i, Wickliffe Omucheyi (1st national vice-chairman), Hesbone Otieno (acting deputy secretary-general), Dorothy Muthoni (1st woman representative) and Jacinta Ndegwa (2nd woman representative).

Coast representative Dan Aloo said: “We support the move by the president to end the stalemate but we want a draft of the deal which we will scrutinise carefully before the meeting. We will only endorse it if we are satisfied with the provisions”.

A member of the steering committee, who sought anonymity, accused Mr Sossion of setting them against teachers in order to depict them as ‘sellouts’ .

He said that although the union had not yet decided to move to the Supreme Court to challenge the Court of Appeal ruling, Mr Sossion went public that they would appeal.

Lamu Knut Chairman Omar Khelef said he was confident that the deal between the President and Mr Nzili will end the long lasting stand-off over teachers’ pay.

But Mr Sossion said the president’s offer came too late taking into account that the court had ruled on the matter.

“The government should simply be apologising for dilly dallying with the teachers’ September salaries.”

Teachers pay, he said, does not require the prerogative of mercy and what the president and his administration should do is to obey the rule of law and pay the teachers dues.

‘‘We are not going for any more negotiations with the government and what we are looking for is for the government to honour all the teachers demands as per the court ruling. Period.”

He was speaking at Chebonei Girls in Bomet Central Constituency during its annual general meeting.

He described the visit to State House as a ‘‘gentleman’s visit’’ and that what was agreed was not binding.

A national executive representative from Rift Valley, Mr Barnabas Lagat, said: ‘‘The Nzili team’s agreement was null and void as it had not been sanctioned by the union’s decision making organ.
“Members of the steering committee cannot remove the cases that are awaiting presentation in court. The National Executive Council should first meet and see about withdrawal of cases,” said Mr Lagat.

Busia branch Executive Secretary Mark Oseno said the meeting will decide the way forward on the offer by the president.

“We will listen to those who went to State House and those who did not go and of course make a decision on the way we want to go,” said Mr Oseno.

The Tuesday meeting brings together the seven members of the steering committee and 33 members from branches.

Homa Bay County Knut Chairman Eliud Ombori called for elections to replace those who went to State House.

“On whose behalf did the national chairman go to State House? Our chairman has betrayed us and we want to take appropriate action against him and his group. We are ready to wait for an appeal at the Supreme Court,” he said.

In Kisii, Mr Edward Obwocha (Kuppet) and Mr Sam Nyairo (Knut) said there was no need for fresh talks because even the 2013 agreement had not been honoured.

He argued that the President had made it public that the Treasury could not afford to pay teachers more and that there was no guarantee that even a renegotiated pay agreement would be honoured.

Nyeri Knut chairman Patrick Karinga said the government cannot withhold the September salaries since the court had already ordered that all teachers receive their payments.

“We read malice in the whole issue. The government wanted to derail and cripple Knut’s activities and eventually render the union incapable of paying the lawyers who represent us in court,” added Mr Karinga.

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