Junior school teachers open new Knut, Kuppet union membership war

Teachers raise their hands at Kakamega Hill School

Teachers raise their hands at Kakamega Hill School hall on 30th September 2023 during  Kakamega  Central Branch AGM. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The fight is fuelled by the millions of shillings that each organisation is expected to bag based on the numbers.
  • Knut and Kuppet get membership fees from teachers running into billions annually.

Rival teachers’ unions are tussling over recruiting membership of Junior Secondary School (JSS) teachers, the fight fueled by the scramble for millions of shillings in monthly dues and strategy to swell their numbers.

Teachers Service Commission (TSC) is caught up in this fresh war as it transits members from one union to the other and often validates the recruitment of new ones.

The fight stems from the fact that JSS is domiciled in primary schools under a Comprehensive School category that includes nursery school.

This has given the rival unions that represent primary and secondary school teachers to claim membership of JSS tutors.

Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) Secretary General Collins Oyuu claimed that Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) has irregularly been enrolling the JSS teachers as their members.

“I want to state that teachers in primary schools, including those in JSS, have irregularly been transferred to Kuppet and we will not rest until the anomaly is corrected,” Mr Oyuu said.

Mr Oyuu cited a report by the Presidential Working Party on Education Reforms being implemented by the government placed the JSS under comprehensive unit (primary section from PP1 to grade 9), and as such, the teachers should be Knut members.

Kuppet represents teachers in secondary schools and tutors in tertiary institutions. But there are teachers in secondary schools that have on their volition joined Knut.

The two unions get membership fees running into billions annually.

The government has recruited 56,000 teachers in the last one year, half of the required number, but the largest such recruitment in a year and in the history of TSC to bridge the shortages in learning institutions.

TSC has put the teachers’ shortage at 110,000 but the number has been rising due to natural attrition and expansion of learning institutions leading to an increase in the number of students.

“We do not want to fight with anyone as all we are asking for as a union is for those affected be returned to their rightful union (Knut) and not illegally moved to another union (Kuppet),” Mr Oyuu said.

But Kuppet vice chairman Julius Korir and secretary in charge of secondary schools Henry Obwocha refuted claims the union was raiding the turf of Knut.

“What is clear is that the JSS section in our schools, as is rightly named, is a secondary section and therefore the members are in Kuppet by right,” Mr Korir said.

Mr Korir and Mr Obwocha said the Knut leadership should not panic as a result of the shift in union membership.

“The teachers in JSS have voluntarily registered as members of Kuppet because in any event, most were teaching in secondary schools but were transferred to the institutions domiciled temporarily in the primary section. It is a fact that some secondary school teachers are also in KNUT which ideally represents those in the primary section,” Mr Obwocha added.

A senior director at TSC said the commission had nothing to do with the fight between the unions. “The matter is purely administrative between the two unions as TSC cannot force teachers to be members of one union or the other,” said the director adding he had not been cleared to be quoted on the issue.

Knut has faced with a sharp decline of members from 187,000 to 12,000 and earnings from membership dues dropped from Sh147 million to Sh13 million by the time former Secretary General Wilson Sossion resigned in June 2021, a day before the national election that saw Mr Oyuu assume the union’s leadership.

It followed a spat between TSC and the union over transiting of members through a digital platform as opposed to manual recruitment and validation that was previously in use.

The dues from members fell sharply rendering most of the 110 branches countrywide broke, with some of the offices closed over rent arrears while officials went without salaries for several months.

Mr Oyuu recently stated that the union has since seen the number of teachers rise above 170,000 following the restoring of relations with the teachers’ employer and the department of education.

“The difficult times that we faced as a union from 2018 are behind us with the new leadership having turned things around for the better. We are stronger now and we do not carry any grudge. We only want to reap from where we have invest ed,” Mr Oyuu said.

He called on the government to ensure that teachers who have been recruited under contract terms be confirmed in the positions within one year as the law only allows for contracts to last for six months.

“An intern should not work for more than a year before being transferred to permanent and pensionable terms by TSC in the backdrop of acute shortages of teachers in the country,” Mr Oyuu said.

He spoke at a Nakuru hotel during the Rift Valley Regional Council meeting where Mr Malel Langat, the Bomet Knut branch Executive Secretary, was nominated to replace former first national vice chairman the late Stanley Mutai.

Mr Langat was unanimously nominated to replace Mr Mutai after his sole challenger, Mr Boniface Kemei Tenai, the Nandi South Executive Secretary and the First National Trustee in the union bowed out of the race during a vote conducted in Nakuru town, by delegates from 25 branches in Rift Valley region.

“I want to thank my competitors who have run a good race, but in any competition, there is a winner and a loser. In our case though, there is no loser as we are all winners as a team under the age old and tradition banner – Solidarity forever!” Mr Langat said.Mr Langat stated that for the union to deliver on its mandate on behalf of teachers and the members across the country, there was a need for unity among the leaders from the branches to the national level.

“I will strive to be a uniting factor, healing the rifts and focusing on lending a hand to my brothers and sisters in the union to make KNUT great again – in the spirit of unity, respect and entrenching democratic ideals which is the foundation our forefathers set for us,” Mr Langat said.

He has been a unionist for the last 17 years and had been a part time journalist writing for a local daily in the 1990s before he fully immersed himself in the union politics, replacing former Chepalungu Member of Parliament Paul Bii as a Bomet branch executive secretary.

Mr Peter Rono, Bomet branch treasurer said “nomination of Mr Langat to the position in a unanimous vote was a clear demonstration of the trust teachers and unionist in the Rift Valley region and by extension the country had in his leadership”The delegates also picked Bureti branch Executive Secretary Alfred Rop as a nominee to the NEC position to replace Mr Malel