The future of Kenya’s oldest teachers’ union, the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut), is uncertain after its membership shrank to just a quarter over the past one year.
The once-powerful union founded in 1957 is now so weak that teachers wonder if they can successfully bargain for better terms of service and career progression.
Much of the damage has been inflicted by the incessant fights between secretary-general Wilson Sossion and Teachers Service Commission chief executive Nancy Macharia.
Infighting among top union officials last year did not help matters and, once again, Mr Sossion faces internal rebellion.
Of the more than 200,000 members a year ago, Knut may be left with fewer than 50,000. Mr Sossion has maintained that it is the TSC that has removed teachers from its register with the intention of killing the union.
“If you kill Knut, you kill the entire labour movement in this country,” he said in an interview.
The Employment and Labour Relations Court is expected to make a ruling on the disputed register, with Knut demanding reinstatement of the original list.
As the numbers dwindle, Knut has been financially crippled, as its main source of income is union deductions from members’ salaries.
As a result, it can barely manage its 110 branches countrywide. Staff have gone without full salaries for months and some branches have huge rent arrears.
Whereas the union used to receive Sh153 million monthly, the figure has been reducing every month.
In September last year, it received Sh81 million, then Sh79 million in October, Sh73 million in November but in December the commission did not remit the union funds.
In January 2020, it received Sh67 million, Sh65 million in February and Sh62 million in March. In April, the TSC forwarded Sh59 million, Sh56 million in May, and Sh52 million in June.
Previously, teachers in post-primary institutions also subscribed to Knut because of the power it drew from its sheer numbers. But many of them have since joined the less combative Kenya Union of Post-Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet).
According to TSC records, there are about 318,000 teachers in public schools, with primary schoolteachers forming the bulk of Knut membership. Primary schoolteachers are about 218,000.
In an opinion published in a local daily this week, Mr Sossion admitted that in one year, the union had lost “more than 78 per cent of its membership to illegal and discriminative policies introduced by the teachers’ employer”.
He was referring to the decision taken by the TSC in July last year to leave 103,634 Knut members out of a pay raise deal.
The commission simplified the process of dropping out of the union to a click of the button.
The bone of contention has been the career progression guidelines implemented by the TSC and the schemes of service contained in the Code of Regulations preferred by Knut.
“We will never allow TSC to manage teachers outside the Code of Regulations,” Mr Sossion said.
Thousands of teachers who renounced Knut membership were rewarded with an increment while Knut members were threatened with a surcharge on their pay to recover the benefits they had enjoyed since 2017.
Last month, 32,556 teachers in job group B5 were not promoted due to their Knut affiliation while 47,131 of their counterparts were moved to job group C1.
The TSC has also differed with Knut over the payment of agency fees, which are deducted from non-union members who are beneficiaries of the deal negotiated by the union.
Kuppet has, however, been receiving the agency fees.
As the union faces the onslaught from TSC, some branch executive secretaries are calling for the removal of Mr Sossion.
On June 11, some 13 branch executive secretaries from six regions met in Nyeri and wrote to Ms Macharia supporting her move to deregister Mr Sossion as a teacher last year.
They asked the TSC to stop engaging with Mr Sossion on behalf teachers, saying they had lost confidence in him.
The officials were from Nzaui, Kiambu West, Mbooni, Kaloleni, Kericho, Mumias, Mombasa, Nandi East, Bondo, Gucha, Meru, Bungoma and Nyeri. They accused him of a litany of issues including financial impropriety.
Mr Sossion refused to be drawn into the matter, saying it will be handled internally.