Junior secondary school intern teachers strike in demand for better pay, permanent terms

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They say they will not return to work unless the government addresses the key issues of poor pay and changes their contracts to make them permanent and pensionable.

Intern teachers at junior secondary schools (JSS) across the country started a strike on Monday over poor pay, saying they would not return to work until the government permanently employed them and improved their work conditions.

In Nairobi, branch secretary Fidel Okuku noted that the courts declared the terms of employment illegal. The court recently ruled that TSC's internship programme is illegal because giving internship positions to qualified teachers with licences violates their rights to fair labour practices.

"We therefore want to be employed on permanent and pensionable terms with improved working conditions," he said.

The protesters further said that if the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) fails to review their contracts, they will join other teachers in industrial action next time.

"We inform the government through the Ministry of Education and the TSC that failure to implement the above before December 31, 2023, all junior secondary school intern teachers, permanent and pensionable teachers across the Republic of Kenya will down their tools come January 2024," Okuku said.

Junior secondary school intern teachers hold a demonstration over poor pay in Isiolo town on May 13, 2024. (Photo: Waweru Wairimu/EV)

The city intern teachers further said none of those in their cohort will renew their internship contracts.

Regarding pay, they said they are left with just Sh17,000 once taxes are deducted from their monthly Sh20,000 stipend.

They want the commission to harmonise their pay with that of interns in other government ministries, raising it to between Sh25,000 and Sh30,000 due to the high cost of living.

One asked, "Are teachers lesser civil servants?"

Further, the teachers described their employment policy as discriminatory and asked their employers to clearly explain why they were denied the chance to apply for positions in senior secondary schools, yet they had the same qualifications.

Another teacher asked, "Why has the Teachers Service Commission, since February 2023, never openly advertised for teaching positions in senior secondary schools?"

The Nairobi intern teachers further noted that they were promised permanent and pensionable terms by mid-year, but that the TSC now says that will come in 2025.

Intern teachers from junior secondary schools address journalists in Isiolo town on May 13, 2024, during a protest over poor pay. (Photo: Waweru Wairimu/EV)

In Isiolo County, they marched from the Mukuu area and through the busy Isiolo town, and then to the offices of the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) in Tuluroba. They wanted an audience with TSC officials but did not get it.

Accompanied by Moses Kimwere, the Isiolo branch secretary of the Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (KUPPET), the protesters hit out at their employer over alleged unfair recruitment and failure to adhere to the order by the Employment and Labour Relations Court that termed the internship programme illegal.

The programme is not for graduates registered with the TSC, they said, accusing the commission of employing people who completed their education as recently as 2022 and 2023, and leaving out those who finished in 2015. They further questioned the recruitment criteria.

Sophia Mukami, one of the intern teachers, added that the Sh17,000 stipend, before tax, is insufficient for basic needs including food, rent, and school fees and has caused them to get into debt.

"The TSC should know we are graduates who deserve better pay as we have families and responsibilities to take care of. Poor pay is disrespectful to our profession," she said.

KUPPET's Isiolo branch secretary, Moses Kimwere (C), joins intern teachers from junior secondary schools in a protest over poor pay in Isiolo town on May 13, 2024. (Photo: Waweru Wairimu/EV)

The teachers also decried poor working conditions, saying they were forced to teach subjects they had little knowledge about, in addition to their two specialisations.

"We are not even being offered a hardship allowance despite working in an arid and semi-arid region. The stipend is an insult to the teaching profession and a show of the government's lack of seriousness," another teacher, Earnest Muriithi, said.

The KUPPET official said it was sad that despite being interns, the government was subjecting them to taxes, including the housing levy, and not providing medical cover.

Kamwere said they would institute legal proceedings against the TSC's chief executive, Nancy Macharia, for contempt of court.

The interns want a basic salary of Sh34,053 and hardship, housing, and commuter allowances of Sh10,000, Sh12,000, and Sh4,000, respectively.

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