Court permits set up of new teachers’ union

The battle for billions of shillings that teachers contribute to unions is set to intensify with the latest entry of a new teachers’ union.

The Kenya Teachers Congress, which was last week given the go-ahead by the Employment and Labour Relations Court to start recruiting its members after a protracted legal battle, will be seeking to have a share of the 290,000 teachers across the country.

Teachers contribute two per cent of their basic salary to unions every month.

Currently teachers are represented by the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut), Kenya Union of Post-Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) and Kenya Union of Special Needs Education Teachers (Kusnet).

However, there are about 50,000 teachers who are not members of these unions despite labour laws demanding that every unionisable teacher pays agency fees, whether they belong to a trade union or not.

The development comes in the wake of an exodus of members from both Kuppet and Knut as a result of retirement, natural attrition and validation.

In the past two years, Knut has lost 25,673 members while Kuppet has lost about 7,000 members.

Before last year’s membership validation, Knut used to collect about Sh1.6 billion a year, translating to Sh135 million monthly while Kuppet used to collect Sh425 million a year which translated to Sh35 million a month.

With the new Collective Bargaining Agreement that was signed last year coming into effect in July at a cost of Sh50 billion, teachers are set to remit more money to the unions as they will enjoy higher salaries.

Justice Hellen Wasilwa, in her ruling, directed the Registrar of Trade Unions to issue the teachers congress with a certificate of recruitment within the next two weeks, so that they can start recruiting members.

The registrar had declined to issue the certificate of recruitment in March last year on grounds that there are other unions that have covered the congress’ target.

Justice Wasilwa ruled that the Registrar of Trade Unions’ action was premature and was based on issues of registration of a trade union and not on issues of recruitment for members of an intended union.

The issue of registration of a trade union follows six months after the issue of certificate of recruitment.

The court also said that the Registrar had not stated that there is another union with a similar name or sufficiently similar to the one that seeks to be registered.

Knut, which was an interested party in the case, had supported the position taken by the Registrar of Trade Unions saying it had acted within the law to decline Teachers Congress’ request.

Knut claimed the congress was intent to cause disharmony in the representation of teachers’ interests.

Mr John Mbate, the interim secretary-general of the congress, said the idea for a new union has been borne out of the realisation that the present unions have deviated from their main objectives.

The new union was started by former Knut officials who differed with the union leadership.

According to Knut leadership the union membership now stands at 174,972, down from 197,555 last year and 200,645 in 2014; and has affected the union’s annual revenue which  declined by Sh286 million, from Sh1.345 billion to Sh1.059 billion.

Knut and Kuppet have since ordered their grassroots leaders to intensify recruitment of new members.

“It has come to our notice that some branches have tactfully kept their membership at around 900 while they have the potential to recruit well over 1,000,” said Knut Secretary-General Wilson Sossion during the union’s annual delegates conference held recently.

Kuppet chairman Omboko Milemba said recruitment of members remains the business of the union and must not stop.

“We have to acknowledge Kuppet’s previous leadership for their efforts in recruitment of members and ask ourselves, what shall we do to add on the already existing achievements,” said Mr Milemba.

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