Teaching and learning is yet to resume at public universities across the country as the unions representing the teaching staff had not, by late last week, reached an agreement with the government over salaries, keeping the studies of thousands of students in 33 institutions on hold.
Lecturers, who have been striking since 19 January, are adamant that they will only resume work after a pay rise and have demanded that the government increases its offer of KES10 billion (US$97 million) to meet the demands contained in the 2013-17 Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Officials of the Universities Academic Staff Union, or UASU, and the Kenya Universities Staff Union have defied calls by the Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i to call off the strike.
According to a local media report, Matiang'i has approved a request by university councils of public universities seeking to withhold February salaries and implement disciplinary action against striking lecturers.
UASU’s Secretary General Constantine Wesonga has been adamant that the lecturers will not be cowed by threats from the government.
Availability of funds
UASU officials have also raised concerns over the actual availability of the KES10 billion offer since the Inter-Public Universities Councils Consultative Forum that negotiates with the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology had not provided the unions with documentary proof of the offer from the Treasury.
Led by Wesonga, they assured a senate education committee that they are ready to resume duties once the government commits to implementing the 2013-17 Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Critics, including some of the unions’ officials, have criticised the government for failing to reach a deal with the lecturers and frustrating negotiations to end the strike. The criticism has intensified because of the government’s failure to end a two-month long national doctors’ strike which has paralysed the country’s health sector.
It is anticipated that the strike may lead to the suspension of this semester which usually lasts at least 16 weeks, with 14 weeks of teaching and learning and two weeks of examinations. Some universities such as Laikipia, Karatina and Maseno have closed their institutions indefinitely as a result of the strike.
Impact on students
Students in the last semester of their studies, and those from poor backgrounds, are the most acutely affected since they have to pay for social amenities such as housing and food when the universities re-open.
“Some of us had already made semester payments for our hostels and water,” said Oliver Weyombo, a final-year law student at the University of Nairobi. Weyombo, who hails from a rural area in western Kenya, told University World News he sometimes has to borrow bus fare to take him back to university after the holidays – a situation that is now likely to happen again.
“This was my last semester. I was psyched up to finish my studies and move to the next step of joining the Kenya School of Law and becoming an advocate of the High Court of Kenya,” said Weyombo. He urged the government to gear up its efforts to settle the lecturers’ demands.
Kenya National Union of Teachers’ Secretary General Wilson Sossion has urged the lecturers to remain firm in their quest for the implementation of the 2013-17 Collective Bargaining Agreement, accusing the Salaries and Remuneration Commission of a lack of goodwill towards trade unions and labour movements in Kenya in their bids to improve livelihoods.
In their protests and demonstrations on the streets countrywide, lecturers have criticised the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology and the commission for not spearheading talks to end the strike. The University of Nairobi UASU chapter’s Secretary General George Omondi criticised the government for failing to timeously make a counter offer to their demands.
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