Wilson Sossion

Teachersolidarity interviewed Wilson Sossion, Secretary General of the Kenyan National Union of Teachers

TS:  What is the situation in your dispute with the government at present?

WS:  Conditions for teachers in relationship to their aspirations and struggle have deteriorated as has their freedom, after a long confrontation with the government involving repeated strike action in the last five years. Most recently there was an eight week strike in 2015. As a result of our action the government has been compelled to violate both labour laws and the constitution of the country in order to punish the teachers union. We have been paid no union dues for the last six months, making it increasingly difficult to run the union, and yet the government is obligated by law to do so. We view this as an attempt to cripple the capacity of the labour movement, in order to effectively stop the union from agitating for the rights of members. And we have still reached no agreement over our long promised pay rise.

TS:  Why do you think that teachers unions have been singled out for this attack?

WS:  Because KNUT is the largest and most organised trade union in the country and the government is worried that it will be instrumental in voting them out of office in the next election in August 2017.

TS:  Does the opposition have more favourable education policies?

WS:  It is committed to labour standards, to respect for collective bargaining and to the employment of more teachers.

TS:  Can you describe conditions for teachers in Kenya?

WS:  International studies have shown that Kenyan teachers are the most overworked in Sub Saharan Africa. As a result of the introduction of free primary education, many more children have come into schools, however there have been no extra funds from the government. As a result classes can be as big as 70 - 100. There are some schools for example with as many as eight classes and only one trained and qualified teacher.

TS:  And yet in this situation, the government is bringing in Performance Related Pay?

WS:  Yes, but it cannot possibly work. The scheme is pushed by the World Bank in order to help the government to 'get more for less'. The PRP   tools are tailored to make teachers work even harder, these are corporate and business tools, customised to kenya, which will mean more paperwork and less time to teach. We are telling teachers not to sign the new performance contracts and that has been successful, the scheme has been suspended pending negotiations. The overall problem in the country is not the standard of teaching but the shortage of teachers. The government must employ more teachers.  

TS:  Have you had support from parents for your struggles?

WS:  There has been strong support from parents, surveys conducted both by us and the media register this.

TS:  Is it possible to see your fight in a global context?

WS:  Absolutely. The impetus for poor funding and reforms like performance related pay are coming from the World Bank and are similar in other countries. We need to strenthen the global solidarity network - we need to build capacity, to share strategy, to share experience and to have global collective action.