State agencies differ on teachers’ pay

PHOTO | FILE Knut secretary-general David Okuta (right) and chairman Wilson Sossion during a past press conference.

What you need to know:

  • Ministries, commissions can’t agree on who will handle the new pay row
  • The Kenya National Union of Teachers is demanding salary increments and other allowances totalling more than Sh43 billion
  • If passed, the allowances alone would cost the government Sh30 billion, which Finance minister Njeru Githae said would push the wage bill for public servants to unsustainable levels

A crisis looms in the country’s public schools set to open next week for the third term following a standoff involving four agencies of government meant to resolve a strike planned by teachers.

The Teachers’ Service Commission, Salaries and Remuneration Commission, the Treasury and ministry of Education are wrangling over who should negotiate with the teachers to avert the strike scheduled for September 3, at the expiry of a notice they issued last week.

The Kenya National Union of Teachers is demanding salary increments and other allowances totalling more than Sh43 billion. Part of this demand is from a deal they sealed in 1997 which was not fully implemented.

But the new salaries commission, charged with setting, reviewing and advising on salaries and benefits for civil servants, has disowned the pact teachers signed with President Moi’s administration.

The agreement, commonly referred to as the Legal Notice 534 of 1997, sought to increase teachers’ house, medical, responsibility, hardship and commuter allowances over five years alongside their salaries. Knut says the government only increased the basic salaries and overlooked the allowances.

The deal was signed by Mr Fares Kuindwa (then Head of Public Service), Mr Simeon Lesirma (then Treasury PS) and Mr Justice Aaron Ringera (then Solicitor-General).

The teachers were represented by Mr John Katumanga (then teachers’ union chairman), Mr Ambrose Adongo (then secretary-general) and their national treasurer John Bosco Mboga.

If passed, the allowances alone would cost the government Sh30 billion, which Finance minister Njeru Githae said would push the wage bill for public servants to unsustainable levels. He directed teachers to the salaries commission.

Harmonised rate

“I want to advise the teachers to give the commission time to come up with proposals and the harmonised salaries. (Then) we will be able to look at all sectors which are either below or above the harmonised rate,” the minister said.

But the salaries commission said what the teachers were demanding did not fall within its ambit.

“The genesis of the teachers’ demands is not within our purview,” spokesperson Ali Chege said during an interview, adding that the Treasury is better placed to handle the matter.

“We only intend to address and harmonise the wage bill to be fiscally sustainable for all civil servants, and our focus is on the future,” Mr Chege said.

The commission also nullified agreements that the government entered into with civil servants saying they needed to be adjusted “to allow for new collective bargaining agreements with four-year review periods”.

In a circular to all unions, the commission said all the current agreements will expire by June 2013.

Angered by the move, union chairman Wilson Sossion said the salaries commission “is a stranger to the discussions that led to the signing of the Legal Notice 534 of 1997 and that it should not purport to write off previous agreements that are legally valid”.

“All arms of the government must work together to ensure that teachers get their rights in this matter. The back and forth currently being witnessed only serves to worsen the situation,” he said.

On August 19, teachers issued a notice to their employer – the TSC – demanding a 300 per cent salary increase and the immediate implementation of the Legal Notice 534 of 1997.

Mr Sossion said the matter needed to be addressed by the Teachers Service Commission: “The body that is the rightful employer of teachers in the country according to the Constitution”.

But while noting that teachers’ salaries needed to be harmonised with those of other civil servants, Secretary Gabriel Lengoiboni said the allowances they were demanding had been given.

“Under the Legal Notice 534 of 1997 the allowances were to be paid as a percentage of their basic salary. This was done until 2009 when the union agreed that the government awards salary increment, but allowances remain as they were as at June 30, 2009,” read a part of his circular.

Mr Lengoiboni said the government would not honour the Legal Notice 534 of 1997 as teachers’ allowances were pegged at 20 per cent of basic salary for medical, commuter (10 per cent), special schools (10 per cent) and hardship (30 per cent).

The circular, addressed to the Treasury Permanent Secretary Joseph Kinyua last week, said teachers required Sh13 billion to harmonise their salaries with those of other civil servants.

“From 2003 all the allowances have been paid as per the Legal Notice 534 except house allowance which has been pegged on job groups since 2001,” the TSC boss said.

Mr Lengoiboni asked the Treasury to provide commission with Sh1 billion per month, or Sh13 billion per year, to harmonise the salaries of teachers with those of other civil servants.

“Following the decision of the government to realign the salaries, the commission recommends that the government provides funds to facilitate the harmonisation of the teachers’ salaries with those of civil servants with effect from July 1, 2012.”

Teachers in 2009 entered into an agreement with the government that saw their basic salaries increased for a period of three years. The deal was signed after the teachers staged a strike that paralysed learning in public primary and secondary schools nationwide.

The agreement gave the lowest-paid teacher at Job Group F Sh13,750 and the highest paid (Job Group R) Sh120,270, which are expected to increase to Sh41,250 and Sh360,810 in both groups respectively if their demands are honoured.

The highest-paid teacher would take home Sh649,458 in gross pay while the lowest-paid would earn Sh74,250.

Education minister Mutula Kilonzo on Saturday said his ministry did not recognise the Legal Notice 534 of 1997 and that the deal signed in 2009 surpassed the said notice.

“It is unfortunate that the teachers have chosen to strike during the third term when candidates are supposed to be sitting their national examinations. But it should be noted that the agreement that the teachers signed with the government in 2009 nullifies any prior agreement,” he said.

Mr Kilonzo, however, threw the ball into the TSC’s court, noting that President Kibaki had just signed into law and Act that effectively rendered the commission an independent body to deal with the management of teachers in the country.

“We are going to maintain an excellent relationship, a complementary arrangement for the delivery of modern education in the country,” the minister said.

The Act delinks the commission from the parent ministry and makes it a constitutional commission with immense powers and responsibilities, a break from the past where it was controlled by the ministry of Education.