If the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) lives up to its threat to end a recognition pact with the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut), it will mark a major turning point in the history of trade unionism in the country.
The organisations have had a love-hate relationship characterised by costly strikes, lengthy court disputes and acrimony over more than five decades.
On the whole, however, they have painstakingly sustained a symbiotic partnership to the greater benefit of teachers and basic education.
Which is why the threat by TSC to end a partnership that has been in existence since 1968 marks a watershed development for primary school tutors and the labour movement.
Knut is one of the oldest unions in Kenya, having been formed in 1957. It had been the sole teachers’ representative up to 1998, when the Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) barged into the scene to take care of those in secondary school.
The 21-year-old Kuppet, which is devoid of the pugnacity and intransigence associated with Knut, has steadily chipped off the edifice of its elder brother by pulling away its members.
However, it has hardly made its presence felt in the labour movement, largely because its leadership is less boisterous and somewhat lacklustre.
Knut’s rich history of fighting for teachers’ rights, an elaborate organisational structure spread across the country and vast assets have always given it the confidence to take TSC head-on, sometimes needlessly, but nevertheless gaining more authority and a sense of indefatigability.
It has called for countless strikes to press for higher pay and opposed policies it deems unfavourable to its members with considerable success and to the detriment of the commission. It has also won many court disputes.
In the recent past, however, Knut seems to have overreached itself by opposing career development guidelines, teacher appraisal and transfers to delocalise teacher management.
TSC went to court to stop Knut from calling for a strike but the Labour and Employment Relations Court mid-this year emboldened Knut further by setting aside the career progression rules and rejecting the commission’s argument that upgrades should not be automatic but guided by existing vacancies and performance.
TSC then stopped implementing the 2017-21 CBA for Knut members based on the ruling.
Still, Knut Secretary-General Wilson Sossion, whose teaching contract was terminated last week, was kicked out by members of the union’s executive council but was reinstated by the court, which termed the coup illegal.
By seeking to end its recognition agreement with Knut, TSC is right in the sense that the Labour Relations Act stipulates that a union must command a membership of a simple majority. With 318,000 basic education teachers in the country, Knut’s 115,000 members clearly fall short of the target.
But it is questionable if Kuppet, which has an eight-year-old recognition agreement with TSC, can boast of a simple majority too.
All in all, primary schoolteachers will be the ultimate losers because they will have to operate without a platform through which to air their grievances, push for better terms and rally them together.
They will not be able to negotiate for a CBA and neither will they have a channel to give feedback about their work to the employer. For the TSC, it will mean the ability to implement learning and teaching programmes without opposition.
The basic education will also enjoy some industrial bliss with the giant union gone.
The more than 100 executive secretaries spread across the country will certainly have to leave office and possibly go back to teaching since Knut will certainly lose the Sh150-million- a-month income it gets from members.
Credit : Daily Nation