Staff strike paralyses public universities
The strike that began officially on Thursday, 19 January, has left over 200,000 students from 33 public universities with no option but to return home. The strike comes in the wake of plans for a massive overhaul of higher education and amid a six-week nationwide doctors' strike over salaries that has also paralysed the health sector.
The leadership of the major unions – Universities Academic Staff Union or UASU; Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotels, Educational institutions, Hospitals and Allied workers; and Kenya University Staff Union or KUSU – went ahead with strike action after the strike notice they issued last month did not receive any attention from the government. Earlier in January, non-teaching staff of Egerton University, one of the largest public institutions in Kenya, downed tools demanding salary increments.
The strike has defied a court order issued early last week calling for the unions to enter into negotiations with the Salaries and Remuneration Commission, the Federation of Kenya Employers and the Inter-Public Universities Council Consultative Forum.
In her ruling, High Court Justice Wasilwa Hellen Seraya ordered UASU and KUSU members to desist from engaging in any activity likely to disrupt learning at the institutions of higher learning.
"An order is hereby issued restraining UASU, KUSU, their officials, agents or members from taking part in, calling, instigating or inciting others to take part in an unprotected strike," she said.
However, the union’s leadership said that their members are demanding the higher payments – a 50% increase, according to local media reports – agreed in a consultative bargaining agreement, also known as CBA, with the government in 2013.
George Omondi, secretary of the University of Nairobi’s UASU chapter, said that the strike was continuing because the government through the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology had given a deaf ear to their demands and calls for negotiations. He revealed that no response had been given to the salaries and remunerations proposals tabled to the government during the Inter-Public Universities Council Consultative Forum held in March last year.
“What we want is for the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, the Salaries and Remuneration Commission and our unions to negotiate. Whatever is agreed on is what will shape our next course of action but until that happens, we are not going back to work,” said Omondi.
His KUSU counterpart, Charles Mukhwaya, reiterated that the staff will not go back to work unless the government sits down with the unions to address the issues proposed and the CBA.
“We are demanding our rights,” said Mukhwaya in a press conference, “We haven’t had a salary increment for the last six years, yet our shilling has lost value and life is more expensive. We have the right to good remuneration according to the constitution of Kenya.”
He said that the law demands that there should be salary reviews every four years and this was not the case for university staff as the last review was done in 2013 when a salary increment was agreed upon, but had not been implemented.
According to Mukhwaya, the unions are demanding harmonisation of the payment and grading structures of university staff. He said the current salary scale, in which the most junior lecturer earns approximately US$690 per month and the highest US$1,500 per month, is too low.
UASU official Njoki Ndung’u said that the CBA did not stipulate a percentage salary increment but a restructuring to ensure that all public servants, both in teaching and non-teaching professions, were paid equally according to their qualifications. She said some civil servants in the same job group and grade earned different salaries yet they were supposed to earn the same figure.
“When the country gained independence in 1963, a university professor was among the highest paid professionals but the government has distorted the pay scheme for civil servants over the years,” said Ndung’u.