Forming a National Federation of Teacher Unions in the context of labour and education reforms can help teachers get a formidable organ to voice, and push their labour and professional concerns.
The teaching profession and the labour rights of teachers are under existential threat – teachers are stressed in the workplace due to increased class sizes, student performance objectives, lack of tools of trade, control over work hours, poor motivation, lack of professional recognition, and inadequate remuneration. Moreover, the divide-and-rule strategy by the powers that be has succeeded as the unions rarely agree or work together.
The only way to come out of this quagmire is for teacher unions to revive the Unity Talks Project whose primary aim was to set up a national federation for teachers that would facilitate teachers’ unions to work together through a single governing body as they crusade for structured collective bargaining, professional and educational reforms.
In 2014/2019, there were concerted attempts by Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) and Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) to form a federation, but the efforts were nipped in the bud by the government as it believed a single voice by teachers would be a threat to national security.
The primary purpose of the federation would be to promote solidarity and unity in the education sector, partner with the government to improve quality teaching and learning, and more importantly, harness existing collaboration between teachers’ unions.
By extension, it is also going to be under the purview of the federation to reduce leadership and union rivalry; make unions strong through strengthening their collective bargaining power, and ensure unity among unions in the education sector.
The federation would emphasise on greater cooperation and collaboration among unions when negotiating terms and conditions of service for teachers before signing a CBA with the employer – Teachers Service Commission (TSC). Thus, teachers’ unions have zero option but to resuscitate the stalled Unity Talks Project so as teachers realise their cherished dream of uniting under one roof.
As TSC has surrendered some of its functions to Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) and the State Department of Early Learning and Basic Education has been developing policies without the involvement of teachers, it is time to start the Unity Talks Project that would lead to the establishment of the National Union Federation for Teachers- the axis that will always intervene whenever there is a crisis.
The federation should also influence public opinion regarding education policies, and represent teachers’ unions in collective bargaining.
In the absence of the federation, TSC, SRC and other government organs will continue to throw away teachers’ legal protection, and bring teachers’ unions to their collective knees.
For a very long time, teachers have been fragmented into small unions (splitting Knut into entities like Kuppet and Kenya Union of Special Needs Teachers, among others). It is now time to gather Kenyan teachers under one roof to make their voice strong.
Mr Sossion is a member of the parliamentary committee on Education