Teachers were on Tuesday awarded a massive pay raise by the Industrial Court, handing a major victory to unions in their fight with the government over salaries.
Those in the lower grades will get a salary raise of 60 per cent while those in higher grades will get a 50 per cent increase.
The generous award, which brought tears of joy to the eyes of Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) Secretary-General Wilson Sossion, is backdated to July 1, 2013 and will be paid between now and 2017. The arrears alone constitute a handsome amount for each teacher.
However, the ruling by Employment and Labour Relations judge Nduma Nderi drew protests from the government, with Education Cabinet Secretary Jacob Kaimenyi announcing that he would appeal.
â€œWe will not agree to be forced to pay what we do not have,â€ said Prof Kaimenyi when he appeared before the parliamentary committee on Education.
The court ruling comes with a cost: the government will have to find an additional Sh52 billion a year to fund it, bringing the total cost of salaries for the 288,060 teachers to Sh118 billion a year or 5.6 per cent of the national budget.
A teacher in P1 Job Group G, which is the lowest-paid category, will now take home Sh26,707, up from the current Sh16,692. The best-paid teachers, a chief principal in Job Group R, will now earn Sh163,634, up from the present Sh109,089.
The ruling is certain to set off a series of copycat pay-raise calls from other public-sector workers, especially doctors, nurses and civil servants.
Until now, it had been assumed that the task of setting pay and allowances for public-sector employees lay with the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC). The constitutional requirement that the SRC set the salaries for all public workers was to tame especially MPs, who had awarded themselves hefty pay and non-taxable allowances.
Judge Nderi also directed that the allowances â€” which had earlier been offered to the teachers by the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) through a circular, and which were to take effect today (July 1) â€” be adopted as part of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA).
â€œThis increment takes effect immediately and a CBA reflecting these terms should be registered in court within 30 days from today,â€ Mr Justice Nderi said in his judgment.
The 50 to 60 per cent basic salary increase for teachers translates into an annual raise of between 12.5 to 15 per cent over a four-year period.
Mr Justice Nderi expressed optimism that the CBA would be registered in court within the next 30 days and bring to an end the era of strikes and bitter acrimony between the unions and the government over salary and allowance demands, which started way back in 1997.
â€œThis CBA will bring harmony, peace and good labour relations between the TSC and the unions in the years to come,â€ Mr Justice Nderi said.
VICIOUS LEGAL BATTLE
Knut and the Kenya Union of Post-Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) for the past five months have been engaged in a vicious legal battle against the TSC, the SRC and the Attorney-General over their pay dispute with their employer.
The unions were demanding a basic salary increase of between 100 to 150 per cent as well as allowances, but the TSC was only willing to offer 50 to 60 per cent.
TSC later withdrew its offer on the advice of the SRC, which wanted job evaluations conducted before any increase could be effected.
As a result of the disagreement, the talks between the unions and TSC collapsed, leading to a nationwide strike in January this year.
However, after negotiations in court, the unions and their employer agreed on a return-to-work formula, which led to the court taking over the dispute and the teachers agreeing to resume work.
Mr Justice Nderi on Tuesday said that the TSC and the SRC were both constitutional commissions and, therefore, independent of each other. He said they were not subject to directions from any quarter other than the Constitution.
Shortly after the judgment, Knut and Kuppet members who were in court broke into song and dance.
Mr Sossion said it was a historic moment for the country given that the Industrial Court had for the third time granted teachers their rights and saved them from servitude. Other instances were in 1969 and 1982.
â€œIndeed, we are satisfied with the verdict. We will expeditiously cooperate and ensure that the CBA is deposited in court within 30 days as directed,â€ Mr Sossion.
Kuppet Secretary-General Akello Misori said the court had given a landmark direction on how teachersâ€™ issues are to be handled.