Teachers will nolonger be able to form and register new unions. For now hundreds of thousands of teachers without a union may have to continue paying agency fees after the registrar refused to authorise two new ones.
The decision of Registrar of Trade Unions Elizabeth Gicheha has dealt a blow to two new teachers’ groups that were seeking to negotiate in teacher’s welfare.
The National Education Union (NEU) and the Kenya National Union of Classroom Teachers (KNUCT) had written to Ms Gicheha seeking the nod to push for, among others, salary increases, allowances, and promotions.
NEU was pushed by teachers through Salim Omar and Co Advocates, while KNUCT is spearheaded by teachers through Ondieki and Ondieki Advocates.
NEU, whose rallying call is “Service, Justice and Unity” planned to recruit teachers from all levels of the profession — pre-primary, primary and secondary schools, tertiary and private institutions — while KNUCT had planned to recruit all classroom teachers exempting those in the managerial positions.
According to Ms Gicheha, there are already registered trade unions representing the rights and interests of the envisioned scope of representations.
She said the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) represents registered, certified, licensed and authorised teachers of all grades and qualifications; the Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) represents those who are in secondary and tertiary institutions; while the Kenya Union of Pre-Primary Education teachers (Kunoppet) represents all teachers in early childhood education.
The Kenya Union of Special Needs Education Teachers (Kusnet) represents all trained teachers and those undergoing training registered by the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) and other ministries employed in the special needs and early childhood education.
Another union, the Kenya Union of Private Schools Teachers (KNUPST) also represents every trained teacher in private schools.
“Section 14(1)d of the Labour Relations Act(2007) states that a trade union may apply for registration if –(d) no other trade union already registered is in the case of a trade union of employer or of employees, sufficiently representative of the whole or of substantial proportion of the interests in respect of which the applicants seek registration,” said the registrar.
Ms Gicheha said a proposed trade union would then engage on recruitment for the section where no other trade union exists.
With that, she could not register any other teachers union, she said.
The emergence of the groups is due to the division among teachers, with some accusing the current trade unions of failing to take care of teachers’ needs.
An attempt to form another splinter group, the Kenya National Teachers Pressure Group (KNTPG), has also been fought, with the teachers involved seemingly being punished by being transferred to counties that are far from their previous stations a month ago.
TSC CEO Nancy Macharia has denied that the transfers were malicious or punitive, and that since July 1, a total of 1,120 teachers in both primary and secondary schools have been moved to new stations.
Knut Secretary General Collins Oyuu said all teachers were represented by the current unions and the groups purporting to speak for teachers are unregistered groups.
He also insinuated that the people behind the new groups were candidates who lost in past union elections.
“How can a group claim they represent teachers yet they are unregistered? Those people lost in the last union elections and they have no authority to represent or speak for teachers,” said Mr Oyuu.
The KNTPG spokesperson Martha Omollo said the two groups are unions formed by teachers but their efforts have been frustrated.
“We applied for NEU and when we didn’t get an okay, we resolved to have KNTPG as an association, as we awaited the outcome of the case we intend to put in court compelling the Registrar of Trade Unions to register the union,” she said.
Mr Nelson Kirui, the teacher spearheading the KNUCT, said the group would move to court in January to challenge that decision by the registrar.
“Currently Knut does not represent even half of teachers and, therefore, we don’t understand why the registrar denied us registration,” said Mr Kirui.
Thousands of teachers are still not members of a union after they left Knut between June 2019 and June this year.
Available data shows that Knut’s membership went down from 187,000 to 15,000. The union has not provided recent data to show if that the number has grown after new officials were elected in June.
Kuppet represents around 109,000, teachers while Kusnet represents about 8,000.
More than 190,000 teachers in primary, secondary schools and teacher training colleges are not union members and are compelled to pay agency fees every month to the three unions as per the Labour Relations Act of 2007.
The act provides that employees who are not members of a trade union but are benefiting from terms of employment negotiated by a union in a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) are deducted agency fee.
However, the new groups have been arguing that the unions negotiated a non-monetary CBA and are no longer fighting for the welfare of teachers.
Knut is in the process of changing its constitution to extend the age at which an official is required to retire from 60 to 65.
The union also signed an agreement with the TSC to only represent primary school teachers.
In 2019, an attempt by KNUPST to change its name to Kenya National Union of Private and Basic Education School Teachers (Kupbest), and open its doors to all teachers was met with objection from both Knut and Kuppet.
In August, another group — the Kenya National Union of School Administrators (KNUSA) was also planning to write to the registrar seeking to be registered as a union.