In Kenya 240,000 teachers have entered into their second week of a national strike action to demand an outstanding salary increment which they won in 1997 after the teachers paralysed the education system by going on a nationwide strike. Henry Kosgey, the Minister of Education, has responded by legally revoking the teacher’s pay rise package, thereby rolling back the gains the teachers won after doing battle with the corrupt KANU state in 1997.
In response to the strike action, the Minister of Education has threatened to sack all striking teachers, frozen teachers salaries and embarked on recruitment of 40,000 scabs to break the strike. Further, the Minister has frozen money the teachers remit to the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) as a way of bankrupting the Union so as to render it incapable of leading the strike.
The dispute revolves around the inability of the government to deliver on a 150-200 percent pay rise awarded in 1997 with the government arguing that it is broke. The teachers’ position is that they are living on starvation wages while politicians continue to award themselves hefty salaries. MPs are currently earning more than half a million Kenyan shillings (US$ 6,330) after hiking their wages through Parliament without considering the state of the economy.
The Kenya National Association of Parents (KNAP), the opposition, Churches, and leading personalities in Kenya have all supported the teachers’ strike, arguing that the government had signed a contract with the teachers which still has to be met. KNAP has promised to mobilize its 23,000 members together with school children to demonstrate in support of the teachers. In the meantime, schools have been closed down and students sent home as the strike took root.
Out of the country’s annual budget of Ksh 200 billion (US$ 2,530 million), Ksh 53 billion goes to the education budget out of which Ksh 43 billion goes to finance teachers’ salaries. In taking draconian measures to thwart the strike, the government has maintained that the teachers’ salaries already consume 80% of the education budget and that there is no money to finance the next phase of the pay rise package after the government implemented the first phase by implementing a 35-45 percent pay rise.
It is most unlikely that the government will win the strike by threatening the teachers with the sack or hiring scabs to break the strike. Unlike other workers in Kenya who have, in the past, gone on strike and retreated after sacking threats, the teachers have the advantage of numbers that makes them irreplaceable if all of them decide to take a strike action. The strike indicates the ability of workers in Kenya to try and change their own situation through industrial action after being cheated several times by politicians. The striking teachers need international support and solidarity.