World Bulletin/News Desk
Parents and schoolchildren in Kenya, who had been gearing up for the start of the 2015 school year, were disappointed on Monday after teachers failed to show up for the first day of class.
"We are asking all children to stay home until we resolve our stalemate with the government," Willson Sossion, secretary-general of the Kenya National Union of Teachers, told The Anadolu Agency.
"We are going on strike because our teachers are still being overworked, underpaid and overloaded," he said.
Public schools in most parts of the country have been paralyzed as teachers went on strike to demand salary increases of between 200 and 300 percent.
"There is no way we are going to be paid peanuts when cabinet secretaries [government ministers] are being given house allowances of 200,000 Kenya shillings and teachers are given a 3,000-shilling house allowance," said a defiant Sossion.
Teachers have demanded that their housing allowances be increased by 50 percent to meet the rising cost of living, especially in the cities.
"We are asking for equity and fairness," said Sossion, going on to accuse the Kenyan government of violating international labor standards.
"The government should hire enough teachers and remunerate them well," he added.
Kenya is currently facing a shortage of more than 170,000 schoolteachers.
Some 70,000 teachers cater for more than three million students in the early childhood development program while slightly over 100,000 teachers serve more than 15 million students in the primary, secondary and tertiary stages combined.
In a previous interview with AA, Sossion had said that the average classroom in Kenya served some 100 students.
UNESCO, for its part, has recommended that, on average, classes should serve between 25 and 35 students.
Sossion accused the government of failing to meet their demands.
"We have had 26 meetings with the government before we decided to go on strike, none of their offers met our terms of 200-300 percent pay increase," he told AA.
"We told them that we don’t want to hear about anything unless it falls in that bracket," he insisted.
When asked how long the teachers' strike would go on, Sossion said it would continue "for as long as it takes, if no solution is found."
The Union of Teachers issued a statement on December 27 of last year in which it vowed to down its tools if the government had not met its demands by January 5.
"We support the government… provided that the government places something on the table for us to eat," union chairman Mudzo Nzili told AA.
"We will not stop until our salaries are looked into," he asserted. "We want to tell this country that the teachers of Kenya must be listened to."
"We shall never be intimidated by anybody," Nzili said. "We are asking the government to revise our salaries as soon as possible."
The state-owned Teachers Service Commission, which is tasked with paying teachers, has expressed its readiness to make the union an offer if it was willing to meet and discuss the salaries issue.
The commission was formed in 1967 through an act of parliament to ensure that teachers have a single employer.
A spot check by an AA reporter in Nairobi showed that most schools were currently closed.
The few that were open had no teachers, with student leaders forced to provide instruction.
"This is my final year at primary school. Next year I will be going to high school," Millicent Achieng, a 14-year-old student who is leading her class at Nairobi's Saint Peters Primary school, told AA.
"The teachers' strike has really inconvenienced us because we are eager to start learning in preparation for our end-year exams," she said.
"We have no option but to study our past papers," noted Achieng, who led the class.
"We hope the government and teachers will soon come to an agreement so we can resume our studies," she said.
Zipporah Nkirote, a 33-year-old mother of two, said she was very disappointed.
"As parents, we are very disappointed with the Teachers Service Commission and the government," she told AA.
"Education Cabinet Secretary Joseph Kaimenyi had told us to take our children to school on national television last week; he promised that there would not be a strike," Nkirote recalled.
"The commission should sort out this issue as soon as possible because our children are the ones who will lose – not the parents, and certainly not the teachers," she fumed.Last Mod: 05 Ocak 2015, 20:34