Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Sossion, KNUT Losing It with Endless Strikes, Reputation of Teaching Profession Ruined

KNUT's Secretary-General, Mr.Wilson Sossion

Strikes have now become all too familiar affair in Kenya with different trade unions taking turns to carry out protests. Industrial unrests have continued to rock the country and have taken a toll on the economy.  First, it was the medical practitioners, Tuskys Supermarket employees and now, for the a millionth time, we have teachers again threatening to go on strike if their demands are not met. Teachers for a very long time have had long standing issues which seemingly have never been resolved, at least to their satisfaction. 

They have a mountain of issues and at the peak is the remuneration which seems to be never ending. The increasing cost of leaving courtesy of inflation is squeezing not only teachers but other working Kenyans to the wall. However, what I am yet to come to terms with is the notion that teachers seem to be the only ones feeling the heat than the rest of the people yet we all live in the same in the same country. 

Teachers have held countless strikes. The last one was about the low pay, according to the union officials; to teachers who take part in the marking of the national examinations but their attempt hold the Kenya National Examinations Council (KNEC) on hostage failed. This time round, the bone of contention is the promotion of some 53,000 teachers who have attained the necessary qualifications. The government on their part says there are no funds. This comes on the background of a directive by the Deputy President, H.E William Ruto to freeze hiring and promotions in the government owing to the ballooning public wage bill that threatens to derail development projects in the country. This has been attributed to devolution as county governments are undertaking massive recruitment drives while employees at the National government remain idle since their functions were devolved.

Leading the offensive is the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) and it’s no gibberish Secretary-General, Mr. Sossion who is now a household name and a celebrity in his own right. As much as Teachers have genuine grievances that need to be addressed, their union is over using strikes as a bargaining chip and that is just too much. The union has turned to issuing strike notices even before going for negotiations and exploring all avenues to resolve the disputes. For the KNUT officials, they are championing the interests of their members but currently they have held one too many strikes. It’s about time they rethink their approach to handling their industrial disputes because they are fast losing public trust and support. Practically every year they must carry out strikes over one issue or the other. It has become a routine for them and the public now perceives them as a bunch of greedy professionals who are neither empathetic nor considerate. They are always protesting for better pay yet the performance of students is poor and they are not educated as recent study revealed.

The numerous strikes by the teachers are considered to be a good key performance indicator by the KNUT officials but a side effect is that the reputation of this noble profession is taking a searious beating. There is a general perception that teaching as a profession is low paying and that’s why most students when deciding on their careers will choose other professions that even has no market than taking up teaching. If you conduct a research you will probably find that majority of the teachers did not have teaching as their first preferred career and were forced to take pursue the course by parents or circumstances. While in high school nobody was aspiring to be a teacher owing to the bad reputation it has acquired as a result of the endless strikes. Who would want to pursue a career that he/she will be constantly striking to get paid? I guess if you ask the students who are currently in high school whether they are considering taking up teaching as a career the answer will be no. The strikes have made teaching profession lose respect among the peers and have become a profession of last resort; one considers it when all other attempts to secure a job in his/her preferred career has failed. So it is playing a second fiddle to other professions. Contrary to the popular belief, Teachers actually earn good salaries as compared to some professions that are considered plum but the image is keeping the aspiring teachers away.

Of concern too is how they carry out themselves during the strikes and protests. When carrying out the demonstrations and protests, they behave in unprofessional way with acts next to hooliganism. Last year, a dormitory in Maranda high school, Siaya County was set ablaze by some teachers when the strike was ongoing just because they were a little not collaborative. Such acts do not befit the profession or any other for that matter. Come to think of it, no offense, I have noted and probably you too, that there is usually a big difference between strike by medical practitioners and teachers. The doctors are usually mature and well mannered as opposed to the teachers who are rowdy in most cases. 

From the foregoing, it is important for the Kenya National Union of Teachers to have a paradigm shift in the way they approach the industrial disputes and solve it without jeopardizing the reputation of the profession. Most importantly they should post good performance when educating the students before demanding pay hikes; value for money.