It is the headline that the Kenyan citizen has become accustomed to – ‘workers to go on strike.’ Whether it is doctors, nurses or teachers, the narrative remains the same. Industrial action has become a much-needed avenue for workers to air their grievances in Kenya.
Last year, there were three lecturer’s strikes that paralysed learning in public
universities. On Wednesday 21 February 2018, the Universities Academic Staff Union (UASU) issued a seven-day strike notice citing failure by the government and the Interpublic Universities Councils’ Consultative Forum to table a counter proposal on the 2017-2021 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Lecturers, like every other worker in the country, have a constitutionally protected right to fair labour practices. This means that lecturers are entitled to fair remuneration, reasonable working conditions, to be members of a trade union and to go on strike.
In December 2017 UASU called off the previous strike after agreeing to a Return to
Work Formula stated that the internal 2013-2017 CBAs for individual universities would be concluded by February 28, 2018. They further agreed that all outstanding
employers’ contributions to pension funds accruing from the 2010-2013 and 2013-2017 CBAs would be factored into the 2018/2019 budget and paid to the Employees’ Retirement Benefit Schemes. This pension pact is yet to be implemented.
The negotiations for the 2017-2021 CBA were to begin on December 18, 2017 and
concluded by January 31, 2018. The purpose of this CBA is to restructure the salary scales of academic staff to ensure equity that would guarantee fair employment contracts.
UASU has now expressed its disappointment with the Inter-Public Universities Councils Consultative Forum and the Government over the lack of progress in the negotiations to have the 2017-2021 CBA finalized.
The causes of these strikes tend to be the focus of discussion, yet it is imperative that consideration be given to the effects of constant industrial action on students, faculty and the institutions themselves. Whenever there is a lecturer’s strike, one of the biggest concerns for students is that they will miss contact hours and thus information on topics that might be crucial to passing course work and examinations. Students tend to read on their own or teach themselves the content that they miss. This is a poor substitute for teaching as it does not include the
additional comments and insights from lecturers which would help them to understand the subject better.
Another concern is the timing of the strikes, with some set to take place in the middle of the semester or near the end of the semester. This means that continuous assessments tests and examinations are postponed which is disruptive to learning. This could adversely affect the students’ final grades. These grades are reflected in the final transcripts which are presented to employers after graduation. There is a negative ripple effect for the students.
The other key effect is that the adjustments to the academic calendar mean that students graduate later than expected turning four-year degree programmes into five years or longer. This demotivates students and shifts the trajectory of their life milestones which is unfair given it is due to circumstances beyond their control.
Beyond the students, faculty in institutions that are subjected to constant strikes also suffer adverse effects. Academic staff tends to be under a lot of pressure to complete the syllabus and work with a constantly adjusting academic calendar. For some universities, the semesters are shortened following a strike period which means lecturers are unable to complete the syllabus. The implications on the scope and quality of examinations become dire.
Faculty who attempt to teach during the strike period face intimidation from students unhappy with the strike. A recent article alleged that students of one university have threatened to cane lecturers who participate in the strike. They also face intimidation from colleagues who disagree with their choice to not participate in the strike. Universities also lose revenue during the strike period. Rents are paid for buildings that are not in use. There is a reputational loss to these institutions. Each year, parents who can educate their children abroad, rather than locally, choose to do so to avoid periods of industrial action. The Universities stand the risk of gaining a reputation of not producing competent graduates in the long run. The University administration also faces the uphill task of dealing with a volatile student body as well as demoralized lecturers.
There is a need for all key stakeholders to come to the table to negotiate mutually
acceptable terms for the 2017-2021 CBA and ensure that learning in these institutions of higher learning is not disrupted any further. As these conversations take place, the stakeholders should remember that the quality education of students and the interests of faculty are also in their hands. Education Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed, in her quest to reform the education sector, should ensure that industrial action is minimized and negotiations encouraged.