The end of giant teachers’ union

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By Standard Team

It has been around for 52 years, and has held a vice-like grip on teachers. But now the giant Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut), it seems, will have to start preparing for early retirement. Indeed, change is wrong-footing Knut, forcing on it an uncertain future in the aftermath of a bungled strike over pay and a resurgent rival union. Today, the union has to chart completely new waters — in the face of economic strangulation in terms of remittances and a Government determined to chip away at its unbridled power — if it has to assure its survival.

Former President Moi with then Knut Secretary-General Ambrose Adongo. Photo: File/Standard

The latest shock to hit home was the revelation that the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) had declined to collect for it remittances amounting to Sh60 million, even as its membership base is eaten away by the rival Kenya Union of Post Primary Teachers Union (Kuppet).

When Knut cried foul over the monthly remittance, TSC told it to take an advance of the February union dues!

Only surviving union

Beginning today, The Standard brings you a series of penetrating reviews of the nation’s most vibrant and only surviving union, its tribulations and triumphs and what the future holds forth.

So why has the end accelerated so fast for the union?

It is evident that since the end of a nine-day teachers’ strike three weeks ago, which effectively paralysed education countrywide, Government efforts to cripple the union have intensified.

Knut has been crying foul and even sought legal redress, saying the Government is employing unorthodox means to cripple it.

The first body blow was aimed at the union’s finances at the end of January as TSC withheld Sh60 million that Knut collects monthly from members through a payroll check-off system.

TSC claimed Knut had called out its members on an illegal strike and did not deserve to earn anything from them, but the union termed the move illegal.

To twist the knife deeper in Knut’s already bleeding heart, TSC locked the code used to pay the union dues. Instead of the dues going to the union, they were paid together with the teachers’ salaries.

Knut is furious. Second National Vice-Chairman Wilson Sossion said: “TSC cannot decide for teachers whether they should remit (their dues) to the union or not. This is a calculated move to cripple us financially.”

Scheme of service

And as if this is not enough, TSC has turned its attention to the union membership, ordering all head teachers, deputy head teachers, heads of department and senior teachers to leave the unions.

The directive, coming only days after the strike came to an abrupt end, would affect an estimated 105,000 members of Knut and 8,000 others from Kuppet.

TSC argues that it is no longer tenable for managers in its employ to be unionisable.

To make matters even worse for the union, the Kenya Secondary Schools Heads Association and the Kenya Primary School Heads Association have passed a resolution that their members will no longer belong to the two unions that represent teachers. In return, the two associations are asking the Government to give them a scheme of service separate from that of teachers.

If Knut loses the large number of members, who are in the high-earning category that remits the bulk of the union contributions, its monthly income will be whittled down by more than a half of what it currently gets.

Knut members pay two per cent of their basic monthly salary. Kuppet, however, charges Sh200 a member.

In a circular sent to provincial directors of education, DEOs and municipal education officers, TSC Secretary and CEO Gabriel Lengoiboni warned: “Any head teacher, deputy head teacher, head of department or senior teacher who acts to the contrary will be in breach of legal provisions and shall be subjected to disciplinary action.”

A third force that Knut claims is being used to hurt its membership is its rival, Kuppet.

Soon after the strike ended last month, more than 200 Knut members in primary schools were said to have presented their letters to Kuppet seeking to cross over.

Before the strike, Kuppet had signed an agreement with the Government that no only benefited secondary school teachers (from whom it draws members), but also primary school teachers above job groups K.

Poaching members

That Knut is feeling buffeted from all sides can be seen in its threat to take legal action against the TSC, which it has accused of colluding with rivals to poach members.

Knut Secretary-General Lawrence Majali said the union is preparing to take legal action over what he termed “illegal” movement of teachers between the two unions.

But Knut Chairman George Wesonga downplayed the poaching of members by Kuppet, saying: “The 200 people we saw last week were gathered to create an impression that teachers were moving out of Knut.”

Kuppet was registered in 1998, at the height of wars between the Knut and Government, over the 150-200 per cent salary increase in 1997.

The move was then interpreted as a Government ploy to stem Knut’s hold on teachers.

Mr Sossion of Knut showed affidavits of about 6,000 secondary school teachers whom he said had reaffirmed their loyalty to Knut. He claimed that the defections to Kuppet were a psychological ploy to incite teachers against Knut.

Some of the forms displayed at the union headquarters include another 4,000 application letters and check-off forms of those moving from Kuppet to Knut.

But Kuppet Secretary-General Njeru Kanyamba insisted that the union is pursuing recognition and registration of members by the TSC.

According to Mr Kanyamba, the union has submitted 18,000 application forms to TSC.

It is, therefore, clear that things may no longer be the same again for Knut. The union that used to thunder and send shivers down the spine of many education officials — during the tenures of Ambrose Adongo and Francis Ng’ang’a — could be on its deathbed.

New scheme

Knut also claims that the Government, even before TSC wrote to head teachers to quit Knut, was inciting the associations of both primary and secondary school heads to opt out.

Knut questions why the Director of Basic Education attended a January 26 meeting for primary schools heads where a resolution to quit the union was taken.

The Standard learnt that Mr Joseph Karugu, the national chairman of the primary school head teachers union, led national officials to the Ministry of Education headquarters to demand that their members walk out of the union.

Earlier, the chairman of the secondary heads association, Mr Cleophas Tirop, had written to the Education Minister asking that their members be allowed to leave Knut on condition that they are moved to a new scheme of service.

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