Teachers make up a vital part of the workforce in any progressing society and without their influence and input, there would not be a proper avenue for learning and knowledge advancement, therefore, it is always disastrous each time there is teacher’s strike. Teachers’ strike has a way of paralyzing the society and disrupting learning. Below are some notable teachers strike occurrences in Kenya.
Incidents of Teachers Strike in Kenya
The first teacher’s strike in Kenya was in the year 1962 just before the country achieved independence. From that period of time, incidences of teachers dropping their chalks in protest of one thing or the other have been a reoccurring issue in Kenya. One may argue that the first strike was a ‘test drive’ on how effective The Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) could organize a strike covering areas such as Nairobi, Baringo, Kilifi, North and South Nyanza and Nyeri.
The second strike was held later that same year in October 1962 and was further declared illegal by the country’s first government KANU. When it was declared illegal, some of the KNUT officials were subsequently arrested, however, there were grievances towards the industrial courts ruling which forced the charges to be dropped indefinitely. In this strike, KNUT branches in Kiambu, Murang’a, Kisii, Central Nyanza, Machakos, Taita and Nakuru joined their counterparts, making it full-blown national teachers strike. The issue was that the teachers union wanted one employer for all the teachers in the country, however, this issue remained unsolved leading to another strike.
On November 1966, the third teachers strike took place and even though it was for a brief period, it made history as the government finally eased its stand and formed one employer to serve teachers, so then the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) was formed through a bill which was tabled at parliament by the then Minister of Education, Jeremiah Nyagah.
But that didn’t stop another strike from happening. On November 1969, the fourth strike happened. The need for an escrow between TSC and KNUT saw the formation of The Teachers Service Remuneration Committee (TSRC) who drafted recommendations from both the parties and forwarded them to the ministry. However, the ministry was not willing to implement the said recommendations leading to the strike but after going on a go-slow for a while the government finally accepted the recommendations but the teachers were no sooner again on strike on October 1997 demanding for a 300% pay rise. Led by the late vocal unionist, Ambrose Odongo, the teachers threatened to paralyse and boycott not only learning but also the examination dates. Since it was an election year, former retired president, Daniel Arap Moi blamed the opposition for fueling the strike and went ahead to insult the late Odongo. This didn’t sit well with the teachers and they showed their discontent through peaceful street marches.
After the elections, another strike was witnessed in October 1998 with the union blaming the government for refusing to implement the pay rise. The government promised to implement it through the presidential committee. After being promised, they went back to teaching. However, the peace was short-lived as in October 2002, the teachers went on a rampage demanding their pay rise which they legally earned in 1997. All methods used to send them back to class proved futile and even when the then Minister of Education, Henry Kosgey threatened to sack all of them, they were not deterred. The strike caused a major paralysis in the education system that lasted for two weeks.
The January 2009 strike was cited as the ‘mother of all strikes’ as almost 8 million children were affected by the go-slow. The teachers wanted a sum of Sh19 billion to be paid but with a lot of persuasion by the government, they went back to school with a promise of being paid Sh17.3 billion in phases citing economic issues as the challenge for not paying the full sum. In September 2011, teachers downed their tools yet again lamenting that they were inadequately staffed to meet up with the influx of students due to the introduction of free primary education by the third president of Kenya, Mwai Kibaki’s government.
July 2013 saw another teachers strike as the teachers demanded their 300% pay rise and responsibility allowance. The strike was held for 24 days and although it was ruled to be illegal by the industrial court, the Teachers Union leader, Wilson Sossion, held his position and the teachers went on with the strike. However, Sossion was arrested together with his assistant and this time charged and sent to prison though he opted to pay for bail. The union together with their leaders were charged Sh6 million for contempt of court. Nevertheless, the teachers returned to work after striking a deal spear-headed by Deputy President William Ruto.
Since the teachers weren’t at work for the most part of July, TSC wanted to withhold the July salary which triggered the unionist to threaten to form another strike. However, President Uhuru Kenyatta intervened and promised the teachers that the salaries would be paid fully and in turn, they would have to implement the laptop project which was part of the president’s manifesto during the election period.
In September 2015, it was time for yet another teachers strike. This was led by the KNUT and the Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers. The reason for this industrial action was the refusal of the government to adhere to the ruling by the Kenyan Supreme Court in August that mandated the former to increase the teachers pay by at least 50 percent. The government blamed their refusal on the non-availability of funds to implement the courts’ judgment. The strike began on the 1st of September and lasted for three weeks, which prompted the government to order the closure of all public schools in the country.
The courts once again came to the rescue in a ruling on Friday, September 25th by instructing the teachers to shelve their placards and return to class for a 90-day period. It also instructed both parties to appoint mediators that will look into the problem within the 90 days.
Since then, there have been several agreements, disagreements and counter-agreements, as well as several threats to embark on strikes by the KNUT. But now more than ever before, there seems to be a cordial working relationship between the KNUT and the TSC. We hope it remains this way, we also hope that the recent calls for nationwide teachers strike don’t go as planned so that the education system in Kenya, which looks like its stability is fragile right now will become more solid than it is.