Politics and policy
There is more to public sector employee strikes than meets the eye
Posted Sunday, September 23 2012 at 16:32
- The root cause of the strikes is now becoming clear — inequality in the Kenyan society and the fact that employees feel that the government lacks the will to improve their working conditions.
- In the 2011/12 fiscal year, the government spent Sh787 billion, or 68 per cent of all outlays, on recurrent expenditure — the bulk of which is salaries
When the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) issued a strike notice at the end of August, the government’s response was typical. Silence.
When the strike took root, the government went to the Industrial Court, which declared the action illegal, then threats of suspension of pay and other forms of disciplinary action followed.
However, teachers boycotted classes over a three week period in which university lecturers, doctors, and other medical personnel joined the strike with varying grievances, mainly a higher pay and better working conditions.
Last week, the Kenya National Union of Nurses also issued a strike notice to push for increased allowances.
Teachers have been demanding implementation of an agreement that was published in Legal Notice 534 of 1997, which was to result in a gradual salary pay rise and better allowances.
Lecturers and university non-teaching staff joined the industrial action in the first week of September.
Doctors, on the other hand, have been demanding the implementation of a deal that brought to an end a strike last December, payment of post graduate fees, and pay for trainee doctors. Some of the trainee doctors were suspended from Kenyatta National Hospital and Mathare Hospitals.
The return- to- work formula, according to Dr Victor Ng’ani, the chairman of the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists, and Dentist Union (KMPDU), included hiring of additional medical personnel, provision of adequate pharmaceutical and medical supplies, building of new hospitals and buying of equipment. On the surface, it may seem that the strikes have been caused by the low salaries that are paid to majority of Kenyan employees, particularly those in service sectors funded by the government.
However, the root cause of the strikes is now becoming clear — inequality in the Kenyan society and the fact that employees feel that the government lacks the will to improve their working conditions.
This has further been fuelled by the government’s slowness and even failure to harmonise salaries and allowances of public sector employees, a move that should put all public employees on equal pay and allowances.
At the same time, few government employees have been getting salary increases other than the highly paid top dogs. The majority, who are lowly paid, have to go to extreme lengths to push their employer to listen to them.
“There is a sense of betrayal. There have been promises made and the government has not been meeting the promises,” said Mr Patrick Obath, the chairman of Kenya Private Sector Alliance (Kepsa).Mr Obath said that there is need for the government to count the cost of the strikes and rethink the impact of arbitrary salary increases to selected sectors. The habit, he said, will end up negatively affecting other sectors of the economy, retarding development, and leading to an increase in taxes.
In the 2011/12 fiscal year, the government spent Sh787 billion, or 68 per cent of all outlays, on recurrent expenditure — the bulk of which is salaries — and Sh377 billion or 32 per cent on development, according to the Economic Survey 2012.
In the three previous fiscal years, the government is estimated to have spent over 75 per cent of the annual budget on recurrent expenditure, leaving less than 25 per cent for development. “If we keep hiking salaries, the government will end up borrowing to pay salaries, this is like mortgaging ourselves,” said Mr Obath. The government, he said, should count the cost of arbitrary raising of salaries and the impact of the move on the economy in the long term.
In an attempt to pacify the striking teachers, last week, the Cabinet said that teachers’ salaries would be harmonised with those of the Civil Service in three phases, within 10 months at a cost of Sh13.5 billion.