Kenya’s University Academic Staff Union (UASU), which represents staff members of the nation’s public universities, began nationwide demonstrations on February 20 after pay talks stalled over the weekend. The union rejected a deal proposed on February 18 by the Kenyan government that would set the salary of assistant lecturers, the lowest-paid teaching staff, at 1,099,116 shillings (USD $10,614). Assistant lecturers currently earn Sh837,528 (USD $8,088).
Union officials called the most recent deal, worth Sh10 billion, “a drop in the ocean” that would be insufficient considering that the budget must support all 30,000 university employees. UASU officials argued that this would only amount to a 3.2 percent increase in basic salary. The union is instead demanding a minimum 30 percent increase in basic salary and 20 percent increase in housing allowance.
However, other unions such as the Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotels, Educational Institutions, Hospitals, and Allied Workers (Kudheiha) and Kenya University Staff Union (KUSU) stand to benefit from the proposed Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Kudheiha already signed the deal on the morning of February 16.
Strikes began January 20 when UASU’s university lecturers and KUSU’s administrative and technical staff refused to work at Kenya’s 33 public universities until their demands were met. The Union’s’ original demands included a 400 percent pay increase to match that of Kenyan parliamentarians, who are among the highest paid lawmakers in the world.
According to Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i, the talks are progressing smoothly. “There are structures for the talks and we leave the processes to continue [after the strike ends],” he said.
However, UASU Chair Muga K’olale disagreed, noting that the Sh10 billion was already disbursed to universities on February 19 despite the union’s refusal to accept the offer. K’olale laments that this undermines the negotiation process. UASU Secretary General Constantine Wasonga remains hopeful that the strike will be effective in forcing the government to meet their demands. “It will be the mother of all strikes, a strike never seen before,” he said.