Education International
Education International

Kenya: Teachers demand immediate salary increases and respect for union rights

published 30 January 2009 updated 30 January 2009

After successfully negotiating a collective agreement including substantial salary increases, Kenyan teachers are now in their second week of strike demanding that the raise be effective immediately.

With inflation currently at 26%, the raise would soon become meaningless if it is phased in over the next three years, as the government wants to do, says the Kenya National Union of Teachers.

KNUT Secretary General Lawrence Majali declared the first day of a nationwide strike on 19 January very successful. Lessons were canceled in most of the country's 18,000 public primary schools after 230,000 teachers refused to teach until all their demands are met, said KNUT chairman George Wesonga.

Education Minister Ongeri called the strike illegal, and warned that teachers who participate in it would be sacked or would have their salaries withheld. He also said that any teacher caught inciting others to take part in the strike would be arrested.

According to the national Daily Nation Newspaper, 42 teachers and union officials were arrested on the first day of strike. KNUT condemned the arrests, pointing out that the teachers were “peacefully demonstrating while demanding their legitimate rights.” The union urged “Parliamentarians and other stake holders to condemn the government for the threats and arrests of teachers.”

The union and government have already agreed to increase pay from $130 to $176 per month for the lowest-paid teachers. The monthly salaries of the most-qualified teachers will more than double, from $513 to $1,154. But the government wants to phase in the salary bill increase by over $220 million U.S. dollars) over three years. KNUT rejects the government plan, fearing an inflation rate running at around 26% a year will render the raise worthless. The teacher's union insists for the 35% increase to be paid at once. “ In fact, by proposing that salaries be adjusted to civil service scales in six phases, the government was making a mockery of teachers, ” union officials said in a report to EI.

EI supports KNUT’s struggle for better pay and working conditions, and urges the Kenyan government to respect teachers’ right to full and free collective bargaining.