- Pupils in Kenyan schools were left unattended as teachers went on indefinite strike today after failing to resolve a salary dispute with the government.
Earlier this month, Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) rejected a government plan that would have seen the salary bill increased by US$225 million over three years.
KNUT head, George Wesonga, said lessons were canceled in most of the country's 18,063 public primary schools after 230,000 teachers refused to teach, saying the strike will continue until all the teachers demands are met.
The teacher's union has insisted that teachers want a 35 percent increase to be paid at once from this month, saying the government has shown little commitment in improving the welfare of teachers in the country.
However, on Sunday, Education minister Professor Sam Ongeri warned that any teacher who would participate in the strike would be sacked, further indicating that any teacher caught inciting others to take part in the strike will be arrested.
The minister issued the stern warning after the union officials snubbed an 11th hour invitation by the government for talks in a bid to avert the crisis, according to the national media reports.
Professor Ongeri said the teachers' action was in bad faith, saying its against the practical laws of the economy. "We are in a very difficult moment currently of an economic crisis, with President Mwai Kibaki and the Prime Minister Raila Odinga having launched an appeal for US$ 400 million to save hunger victims last week," he told a local newspaper.
The row between teachers and government began in May last year when Prof Ongeri, under the Teachers Service Commission Act, set up a team to review the teachers' salary as required by law, but after only 13 meetings, talks between KNUT and the government reached a stalemate on December 29 last year.
The talks were characterised by sudden shifts of goal posts, but failed to come up with a figure that could be acceptable to all, and KNUT issued a strike notice the following day.
Education statistics say there are more than 8.2 million primary school students nationwide.
Teachers went on a one-month strike in October 1998 after the government refused to honour its part of the bargain in the 1997 salary awards, saying there was no money.
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