Kenyatta pleads with striking teachers not to hold children hostage over wage demands

President Uhuru Kenyatta speaks to the nation Sunday night as Deputy President William Ruto looks on.

President Uhuru Kenyatta speaks to the nation Sunday night as Deputy President William Ruto looks on.

In an attempt to convince teachers across Kenya to reconsider their salary increment demands and go back to work, President Uhuru Kenyatta has told Kenyans it is “wrong to hold children hostage to wage demands.

The president was addressing the nation over the worsening crisis Sunday night as he defiantly laid out why his government cannot afford meeting the teachers’ demand of a pay increase to the tune of 50 to 60 percent.

In a lengthy and impassioned speech to the anxious nation, Kenyatta stressed the government cannot increase the teachers’ salaries unless all civil servants’ salaries are raised and taxes increased considerably a fact that could adversely impact the entire economy.

President Kenyatta noted a huge portion of the country’s revenue is already allocated to paying civil servants salaries and that if the teachers’ demands are to be met the overall wage bill would significantly soar to unaffordable rates.

“At the moment, our public wage bill accounts for 52% of revenue,” Kenyatta stated adding “the global average for middle-income countries like us is about 35%. Further, the public wage bill accounts for more than 10% of our GDP, well above the middle-income country average of about 5%.”
Kenyatta revealed of the KSh 1.1 trillion garnered in 2014 a staggering KSh 568 billion was spent on paying salaries of 680,000 civil servants including teachers and the president himself.

The president’s prime time address comes in response to the three- week teachers’ strike that has paralyzed Kenya’s education system as schools have been shut and pupils and students sent home.

There have been reports in local media indicating the Supreme Court has ordered the government to meet teachers’ pay demands but the president says the court has not yet ruled on the matter.

“Contrary to assertions in the public domain, the Supreme Court did not make any determination regarding the award: it decided only that it lacked jurisdiction to hear an application challenging the exercise of discretion by the Court of Appeal in in this matter, since there had been no appeal to the Supreme Court itself,” President Kenyatta told Kenyans.

The ongoing crisis began a few weeks ago after a court in Kenya ruled that the government should increase the teachers’ pay by 50 to 60%.

The government’s Teachers Service Commission (TSC) and the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC), the bodies charged with teachers hiring and management, and civil servants’ salaries respectively have appealed the ruling, and the court will hear their case this Tuesday.

The president urged striking teachers to be realistic and rethink their decision and go back to the classrooms in the interests of the children.

“Ladies and gentlemen, Government is about service. I urge all teachers as parents, as public servants, and as Kenyans to reconsider their position on this matter, and to resume their duties, in the interests of our children,” Kenyatta said.

He added “let me also encourage teachers and their unions to represent themselves honestly to those who pay their wages. Let us deal sincerely with each other, because only then will we find lasting solutions to the challenges that face us.”

Meanwhile, opposition politicians and legislators in Kenya have called for the president’s impeachment over the issue.

“Refusal to obey court orders is a serious violation of the constitution, more so coming from the Head of State,” Moses Wetangula, Minority leader in the Senate said this week.