Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) Secretary-General Wilson Sossion now faces a rebellion from his juniors who want him barred from seeking re-election in polls due next year.
At least 90 out of 110 Knut branch secretaries want Mr Sossion blocked from vying in union elections, arguing he is not eligible since he had been struck off the teachers’ register by the employer.
The branch officials, in a letter dated December 15, addressed to President Uhuru Kenyatta and Labour Cabinet Secretary Simon Chelugui, say Mr Sossion was deregistered as a teacher by the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) and therefore he is not in a position to lead the union.
“This act denies him the right and democratic viability to represent workers who stopped sharing an employer with him,” the letter reads.
They accuse Mr Sossion of dictatorship, saying he unilaterally suspended the union’s constitution and blame his confrontational leadership style for falling fortunes of the once giant union.
The branch secretaries accuse Mr Sossion of suspending union organs such as annual meetings and the National Delegate’s Conference without consulting them.
“Suspension of the union constitution, union organs and functions for two years was in itself a legal flaw that calls for probing as the same can never be a preserve of an individual, whose membership to the very union still stands questioned,” read the letter.
They want the Ministry of Labour to intervene in Knut management, including human resource, financial discipline and liaisons that are relevant to the union’s cause.
Mr Sossion announced that the elections will be held from January 4 to March 31 next year at branch level and between April and June 2021 at the national level.
On Tuesday, Mr Sossion explained he has issued an election timetable and asked branches to conduct free and fair elections.
“Anyone with issues should wait for the elections,” he told Nation.
Mr Sossion, 51, was appointed by TSC as a Diploma teacher on permanent and pensionable basis on September 1, 1993.
TSC thereafter freed him to Knut upon his election as the Bomet branch Secretary to serve on a full time basis from June 1st 2001.
He went on to be elected as Knut SG and he was re-elected on March 4, 2016 for a five-year term.
But it is following his nomination by ODM to the National Assembly as Member of Parliament in August 2017 that Mr Sossion’s troubles began.
Letter of termination
TSC issued him with a letter of termination dated January 17, 2018. From then on, Mr Sossion has had constant run-ins with TSC.
The branch secretaries have requested TSC to provide the legitimate register of Knut voters at each stage of polling for perusal and verification.
They want voting centres clearly identified and named and their credible management guaranteed to avoid infiltration of elections by illegal personalities.
On Tuesday, Kericho branch secretary Stanley Mutai claimed Mr Sossion’s leadership style is what had caused members to leave the union, crippling operations in the branches.
“As branch secretaries we are suffering and we have not received our salaries for 16 months now since June 2019. We cannot let this to continue,” said Mr Mutai.
Nyandarua branch secretary Charles Ngunjiri said: “We feel he is not obeying the organs of the union and therefore we need a change. We are in full support because we have to save Knut as a union.”
The branch secretaries have been holding meetings since last month where they agreed to remove Mr Sossion from the secretary general’s position
According to Mr Sossion, Knut’s membership as per the TSC union dues check off dropped to 28,000 members in December, down from 32,000 members in November.
In June 2019, the union had a membership of over 187,000 members.
The union is facing a financial crisis which has led to the closure of some of its 110 branches.
Mr Sossion also revealed that branch secretaries are also going without salaries and have had office properties auctioned due to unpaid debt.
Besides, Knut staff do not have medical cover, he said.
Mr Sossion, however, accuses the teachers’ employer of scheming to kill the union.
“The continued actions by the TSC are meant to cripple union operations,” he said.
Meanwhile, a global federation of teachers’ trade unions has petitioned Kenyan authorities to resolve the dispute between Knut and TSC.
Struggle for survival
The feuding between the union and TSC was the subject of a high level meeting of the Education International (EI) in Ghana, last week, prompted by Knut’s protests that the teachers’ employer has systematically purged its membership, which is now at 28, 000 this month, down from 187, 000 in September last year.
EI’s executive board meeting declared that Knut’s struggle for survival is also a fight of the global trade union movement as it urged the Kenyan government to broker talks between the warring parties.
The resolution came on a day that TSC snubbed mediation talks convened by Labour Cabinet Secretary Simon Chelugui on Wednesday.
TSC chief executive Nancy Macharia wrote to the CS asking for rescheduling of the meeting, leaving Knut to hold talks with the CS in the absence of the employer.
Mr Chelugui said he had called the meeting “for a mediation joint meeting meant to unlock the deadlock in their conflicting issues”.
As the meeting was going on at the Labour ministry offices, the EI board that met virtually discussed the issues affecting Knut after the union sought international help to save it from collapsing.
The resolution was moved by South Africa Democratic Teachers Union secretary-general John Mugwena Maluleke.
During the EI executive board meeting, Kenya was represented by the Central Organization of Trade Unions (Cotu).
Education International consists of 401 member teacher union organisations in 172 countries, Kenya included.