By: OUMA WANZALA
The Teachers Service Commission has dealt Knut and Kuppet a devastating blow by refusing to collect union dues on their behalf.
Traditionally, the teachers’ employer deducts union payments directly from the teachers’ salaries and remits it to the unions every month.
The decision to stop the tradition would make it next to impossible for the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) and the Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) to get the money directly from its members.
The move will likely cripple the unions financially, with serious consequences for teachers’ right of representation and their ability to negotiate with their employer.
Some offices of the two unions in the counties are likely to be closed after the unions said they had no money to run them.
Knut and Kuppet collect about Sh2 billion annually as membership fee from 240,000 teachers across the country at the rate of two per cent of basic salary.
Knut collects about Sh1.6 billion — that is Sh135 million monthly from 206,000 teachers — while Kuppet, with 34,000 members, collects about 35 million a month or about Sh425 million a year.
Statistics from the TSC indicate that about 48,060 teachers do not belong to any union. These are mostly school heads who are not required to be in unions.
Knut depends on three major sources of income: monthly contributions by members, recovery of gratuity from Knut employees both from head offices and branches and rent from Knut headquarters building located on Mfangano Lane in Nairobi.
Knut has about 110 branches across the country, while Kuppet has 47 and it relies solely on membership fees to run its activities.
On Tuesday, the two unions cried foul over the decision, saying that operations at the grassroots had been grounded for the past three months. They accused TSC of destabilising the unions.
However, TSC Chief Executive Officer Nancy Macharia denied that the commission is out to kill the unions.
“Nobody wants to destabilise the unions,” she said in an interview with the Daily Nation.
Knut Secretary-General Wilson Sossion acknowledged that union dues had not been deducted from the teachers’ salaries for October.
“The union is members and not money,” he said, putting on a brave face despite the failure by TSC to remit the union dues.
Kuppet Chairman Omboko Milemba accused TSC of going against the Constitution and labour laws by not deducting the dues.
Mr Milemba said the commission had decided to paralyse unions economically and warned that they would not hesitate to seek legal redress.
“What the commission is doing is unacceptable,” he said. “Unions have employed at least five people in branches and they have not been paid for the last three months. This is unfair.”
In January, when teachers were on strike, Education Cabinet Secretary Jacob Kaimenyi proposed that the law be changed so that unions ask their members for money directly, instead of asking the government to collect the fees on their behalf.
“This is the practice in many other countries, and it reduces the incentive for union leaders to hold government at ransom,” said Prof Kaimenyi at the time.
The dispute between TSC and unions escalated in September when the two unions called their members to a strike that lasted five weeks.
The Court of Appeal ordered TSC to pay the teachers a 50 to 60 per cent increase in basic pay.
However, the National Treasury said there was no money to pay the teachers.
A judge later ordered the teachers to end their strike but directed TSC not to victimise them.
On November 6, the Court of Appeal is set to make a decision on whether the teachers will get the 50-60 per cent salary increase that they were awarded by Employment and Labour Relations Court in June.