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Kenya Public Schools Shut Indefinitely as Teachers Strike

Updated on
  • Government salaries commission to appeal court order on pay
  • President Kenyatta rules out any increase in teachers salaries

Pupils work at the Olympic primary school in Nairobi on Sept. 7, 2011.

Photographer: Simon Maina/AFP via Getty Images

Kenya’s main teachers union vowed to continue its strike for higher pay as the government prepared to appeal a court ruling that granted them salary increases of as much as 60 percent and closed all state schools indefinitely.

The government shut the schools because teachers haven’t returned since the term began on Aug. 31. President Uhuru Kenyatta on Sept. 20 ruled out giving in to teachers’ demands, saying to do so would “seriously distort” public finances. The Kenya National Teachers Union said its members won’t go back to work until the government complies with last month’s Industrial Court order to raise their pay.

“We are not vacating from our position,” Secretary-General Wilson Sossion said in an interview Monday with Nation TV, a broadcaster based in Nairobi, the capital. “You don’t comply with the order, we don’t resume duty.”

Kenya’s more than 280,000 public-school teachers earn a minimum of 23,692 shillings ($225) and as much as 140,089 shillings a month, according to the Kenyan presidency. Annual inflation in the $55.2 billion economy, East Africa’s biggest, was 5.8 percent last month.

Private institutions remained open this week after the high court suspended the government’s directive that all schools be closed. The Education Ministry had ordered primary and secondary schools shut because of the strike, while allowing high-school students who are preparing to take exams to continue their studies.

Wage Bill

Kenya’s main opposition party, the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy, plans to hold a rally in Nairobi on Wednesday to back the teachers’ demands. The group has also threatened to call for Kenyatta’s impeachment for defying the court order, Citizen TV, a Nairobi-based broadcaster, reported on Sept. 17.

Kenya’s government opposes the court ruling that awarded pay increases of 50 percent to 60 percent, arguing that it usurps the constitutionally mandated role that the Teachers Service Commission and the Salaries and Remuneration Commission have to set teachers’ pay. The two bodies’ appeal against the ruling will be heard on Tuesday.

KNUT has also asked another court to jail eight high-ranking government officials for contempt of court over their failure to pay the increases awarded last month, Nairobi-based Business Daily reported.

Kenyatta, who addressed the nation in a televised speech, said agreeing to teachers’ wage demands would require the salaries commission to review pay across the public service. That would inflate the government wage bill to 61 percent of total revenue, compared with 52 percent now and a middle-income country average of 35 percent, he said. Kenya collected 1.1 trillion shillings ($10.4 billion) of revenue last year.

To raise additional revenue, the government would either have to raise value-added tax to 22 percent from 16 percent, borrow money, or suspend development programs.

This will “will raise the cost of living, slow down our economy and increase unemployment and poverty,” Kenyatta said. “None of these options is tenable.”

(Updates with private schools open in fifth paragraph, KNUT in eighth paragraph.)
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