Letters

Maternity perks right but tutors deserve more

CBA

Teachers Service Commission CEO Nancy Macharia exchanges 2021-25 CBA documents with Knut boss Collins Oyuu on July 13, 2021. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Summary

  • The 2021-2025 CBA gives the more than 320,000 teachers in Kenyan public schools an extended maternity and paternity leave from 90 to 120 days and from 14 to 21 days, respectively.
  • Although the economic implication of paternity leave lasting 21 days would easily be cured by innovative HR re-organisation at school level, the female package has a financial burden to it.
  • Taking maternity leave for this lot is sometimes essentially taking a career break, losing one’s job or forfeiting pay.

I have tried to assess the urgent human resource concerns that the recently signed non-monetary collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between Teachers Service Commission (TSC) and teacher unions seek to address but nothing comes beyond the nexus between education and good health.

The 2021-2025 CBA gives the more than 320,000 teachers in Kenyan public schools an extended maternity and paternity leave from 90 to 120 days and from 14 to 21 days, respectively.

The financial component was frozen to pave way for economic recovery. It is ironical the beneficiaries are not excited about this and are urging the union leadership to re-negotiate as soon as it is practically possible.

World Economic Forum 2018 lists Denmark as one of the countries with good maternity leave policies: Four weeks before the birth and 14 after, at full pay. During the 14 weeks, the father can also take two consecutive weeks off. The government covers 52 weeks of pay, though not always at full salary.

Labour relations agreements with a heavy fulcrum on maternity component are normally arrived at with a view to addressing a glaring gender disparity concern, world over. This seems not to be entirely the case with the new agreement.

To begin with, teachers in public schools have been enjoying three months maternity and two weeks paternity leave from 2007. Before this, paternity leave was non-existent.

Section 29 of the law says a female employee is entitled to three months of maternity leave with full pay ad has a right to return to her job.

Their counterparts in private schools do not enjoy this. They experience subtle discrimination and partial denial due to weak enforcement mechanisms. They fall within the group that the International Labour Organisation (ILO) considers as being in vulnerable employment. This vulnerability has to do with job security, work conditions and labour rights.

Despite existence of ILO Convention No. 183, taking maternity leave for this lot is sometimes essentially taking a career break, losing one’s job or forfeiting pay. It is known that unpaid maternity leave affects the quality of life of new born children, puts strain on family finances and squeezes available resources for child care and medication.

Was the generous CBA offer intended to bridge a gaping gender gap in the teaching profession? The number of women in Kenya participating in the labour force has increased.

According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (2020), women account for 50.2 percent of the working population. Education Statistical Booklet 2019 shows that there were more female teachers (114,076) than male teachers (104,684) in public primary schools. At secondary school, the number stood at 43,124 females and 62,710 males. The drop has to do with attraction, access and retention.

In 2015, Education International (EI) conference in Nairobi reported that 45 percent of government teachers across 23 sampled countries want to leave the profession due to poor working conditions. A shorter maternity and paternity leave was not given as one of the reasons for dissatisfaction.

There is also no gender pay-gap in the sector. The teachers’ employer has comprehensively rationalised and implemented a clear pay structure as contained in 2017-2021 CBA. Teachers enjoy relative job stability. This means there is never a fall in women’s participation in the public schools due to child birth.

Although the economic implication of paternity leave lasting 21 days would easily be cured by innovative HR re-organisation at school level, the female package has a financial burden to it.

With the restructured academic calendar due to Covid-19 pandemic, 120 days means a period longer than a school term. Staffing challenges exist across schools. These will force schools to allocate money for temporary replacements. The CBA guarantees an interconnectedness between SGD 3 (good health and wellbeing of people) and SDG 4 (quality education) with positive long-term benefits.

Data shows that children born of working mothers with a long paid maternity leave experience fewer hospital admissions, are less likely to be diagnosed with mental and behavioural disorders and have lowered risk of infant deaths. A long breastfeeding phase improves a child’s physical and mental health and reduces post-partum depression.

Such teachers also return to the labour force while stable and able to deliver the curriculum.

Teachers hope that an exhaustive agenda that include wages, promotion, working time, training, occupational health and safety and equal treatment will find their place at the table.

Allan Onunga, an educator.