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Is a Rival Teachers' Union Really Legal?

The Nation (Nairobi), Editorial, 21 May 2001

When the Registrar of Societies declined to register a parallel union to represent post-primary school teachers in 1993, it was on the premise that doing so would be unconstitutional. The Trade Unions Act disallows the registration of more than one union to represent members of one trade, unless there is clear evidence that the existing one is not representative or effective.

In the case of teachers, a 1968 Recognition Agreement between the Teachers Service Commission and the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) recognises KNUT as the sole representative of teachers.

It is, therefore, surprising that the Kenya National Union of Post-Primary Teachers has been registered and gazetted by Labour Minister Joseph Ngutu despite the constitutional provisions.

According to KNUT officials, the new union is a ploy to undermine and eventually destroy the union, whose crusade for teachers' right puts it a cut above all other unions. The move is also seen as a diversionary measure to dissipate KNUT's energies and deny it the drive to push for the implementation of the higher salaries negotiated for teachers in 1997.

The new union accuses KNUT of letting down secondary school teachers, but also recognises that KNUT succeeded in negotiating the salary increases in 1997 that benefited all teachers.

Our concern is with the observance of the law. It is curious that the Registrar, despite the legal provisions, went ahead and registered another teachers' union. It is also curious that Mr Ngutu gave it the mantle of legality.

When the Government departments start flouting the rules, who will not? Aren't we encouraging a situation in which the rule of law is sacrificed at the altar of expediency?

The education sector is going through trying moments as enrolment is declining, dropout rate rising, and the quality of education waning. This gives a reason for teachers to take a common stand.

Whereas teachers have a right of association at every level, the process of achieving that right should be based on legality. Nobody should be allowed to take short-cuts.

Copyright 2001 The Nation. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).