A war of words has erupted between lecturers and vice chancellors, dashing hopes for resumption of studies in 31 public universities.
The Vice Chancellors’ Committee blames University Academic Staff Union (Uasu) and Kenya Universities Academic Staff Union (Kusu) of “deliberately” reneging on talks on salary review yet there is a mutually agreed ongoing process to resolve the stalemate.
The two unions called on their members to boycott work, citing lack of goodwill from the Inter-Public Universities Council Consultative Forum (IPCCF) on reaching a deal on the contentious 2017-2021 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).
But addressing a press conference on Sunday evening after a daylong meeting at the Technical University of Kenya in Nairobi, the VCs termed the unions’ move as “ill-timed and unfortunate.”
“There has been ongoing negotiations between the two main sides, which has been anchored on goodwill. We read malice in the abrupt change of heart,” said the committee’s chair, Prof Francis Aduol, in a statement he read on behalf of other vice chancellors.
He said the strike move is likely to affect learning in universities.
But Uasu secretary-general Constantine Wasonga hit out at the VCs, telling them to keep off the union’s affairs.
“Let them keep off the union matters. They are an inept lot,” Dr Wasonga told the Nation, blaming the VCs for the strike.
He accused the VCs of “utter deception”, saying that strike is the only way they will have their grievances addressed.
Uasu accuses IPCCF of failing to table a counter offer on five consecutive occasions since May last year.
According to Dr Wasonga, the forum reneged on its promises to table the counter-offer on May 31 and July 1, 2017, and on January 31, February 13 and February 21, 2018.
“Uasu deeply empathises with students and parents who have to contend with the devastating effects of a preventable strike,” Dr Wasonga told journalists in Nairobi on Wednesday.
The strike’s seven-day notice was issued on February 21.
The industrial action has disrupted learning of nearly 600,000 students across 31 public universities.
Last year, persistent and prolonged lecturers’ strikes led to the closure of several universities.
The dons went on strike three times to push for the signing and implementation of the 2013-17 CBA.
The longest job boycott lasted 54 days, between January and March, and led to the signing of the CBA on March 13.
Dr Wasonga said university councils and the government had violated the return-to-work formula that saw them agree to negotiate and implement the 2017-21 CBA by July 1, 2017.
“The state, the VCS and IPUCCF are disdainful, arrogant and discriminatory towards our lawful quest for the 2017-2021 CBA,” he said in communication to lecturers on Monday morning.
“While the rest of the public sector is already enjoying their 2017-2021 CBAs, the varsities workers are left baffled, bewildered and abandoned for dead.”
He regretted that the strike is yet again putting university education in peril as the government and university councils seemingly care less.
“I want to tell Uasu officials wherever they are, that during the strike they should not engage or meet any councils (and) university managements until further notice. Lecturers in Kenya are now under the management of Uasu,” he said.
The industrial action was escalated on Friday when other university staff, members of Kusu, downed their tools over the same grievances.
Kusu secretary-general Charles Mukhwaya had issued the strike notice on February 23.
“All Kusu members in public universities and their constituent colleges will have no otherwise but withdraw massively their labour and will not resume duty until the said CBA shall have been successfully negotiated, concluded and implemented.”
Mr Mukhwaya said universities’ staff will remain “beggars” if the agreement is not signed in good time.
CBAs normally run for a cycle of four years and new ones are supposed to be negotiated immediately after the expiry of preceding deals.
With the current stalemate, it remains unclear when the strike will end.