Instead of Higher salaries, Why teachers and other trade unions should agitate for strengthening of welfare programs

There is a lot to celebrate about the Kenyan economy but there are also many reasons to be worried. The trade union movement in kenya has been vibrant and shaped the destiny of the nation. Names like Tom Mboya will forever be pronounced in a narrative on the making of the nation. When and after all is said, his work with trade unions will always be remembered. The difference between colonial and early post colonial unions and current unions was their engagement in the wider economic and political debate in Kenya. The unions were not just about salaries but the wider socioeconomic structuring towards a Kenya where the workers and general citizens were happy.

I am of the opinion that current trade unions have failed due to their simple and narrow focus on higher salaries for their members. One union that has ferociously engaged government on the issue of salaries is the Kenya National Union of Teachers and its later day splinter KUPPET. This unions have done well in agitating for higher salaries for members. Recently, through strikes and court battle, they got a ruling in favor of their members receiving a 50% to 60% salary increment. I feel the unions just like the politicians in Kenya that award themselves hefty salaries are failing Kenya. Here are some pointers as to why I believe the real focus should be on strengthening welfare programs in Kenya rather than salary increments.

1. Clamor for higher salaries is occasioned by high cost of living, unfortunately, the higher salaries awarded to those in the public service is likely to drive the cost of living higher rather than lower it. Having more money that buys less is no solution to life's problems.

2. The award of higher salaries to teachers, has opened that Pandora's box. It provides enough justification for every other sector in the public services to demand for a pay rise. The teacher's salary increment alone would mean that close to a third of the national Budget be allocated to education docket. This scenario arises due to the large numbers of teachers.

3. The higher salaries people are seeking in Kenya is in stark contrast to the state of our economy. For a country to develop, you need a patient work force that does not strain the economy through a heavy wage bill. We need as much money as possible spared to be channelled towards long term development intiatives rather than the entire development budget being debt financed.

4. Currently, the recurrent expenditure by government is very high and salaries alone take up close to 10% of the GDP. The implication is that money generated from borrowing activities like the Euro-bond, goes into salaries increasing our debt burden while no investments to refund the loans are actually made

5. The real issue with salaries in Kenya, is lack of rationalization and harmonization. Salaries are not equitable and are not linked to job performance. To ultimately deal with question of salaries in Kenya, SRC has to be supported in the already botched job evaluation exercise and related role rationalization in the civil service. Much agitation about salaries is driven by heft salaries for certain classes in the public service that is not justifiable.

6. It is very easy for our country to become another Greece in the near future, if trade unions will only focus on higher salaries in response to cost of living. Once our debt ratio causes panic among lenders and confidence in our repayment capacity wanes, the debtors will also panic and start demanding their money back. Such a scenario, which can easily be triggered by our continued borrowing while investing in populist projects like the standard gauge railway line that may not pay off in the short term.

7. The agricultural sector that would provide livelihoods for many is being taxed heavily to provide money for paying hefty salaries. Rather than spare money to pump into agriculture and stimulate agriculture based structural transformation, we are recklessly killing agricultural industries. a case in hand is the allowing sugar importation through Uganda without any safe guards against importations from elsewhere coming into Kenya through Uganda.

8. Unemployment in Kenya stands at about 56% and as teachers celebrate salary increase, I can see increase in crime with teachers and other public servants as targets. Those employed should know that their comfort in society will depend on whether the unemployed in society are comfortable or not. The comfort of the unemployed is dependent on agricultural sector, inflation rates, and available safety nets.

9. The only solution to salary issues in Kenya is an economic re-orientation. Capital greed that drives our economy is not healthy. We need infuse some socialism in our economic calculations going into the future. Such machinations, would require heavy taxation of high salary earners to support welfare programs that make everyone happy to be a Kenyan. The high taxes should not be used to fund politically correct projects, rather the money should be used in stimulating sectors with capacity to offer millions of livelihoods such as agriculture. This should be the strategic focus of our unions!!!


  1. What a piece of writing! Indeed, we need economic re-orientation. Even here in Tanzania, things are the same with Kenya

  2. Thanks Innocent. We need to stem greed that drives cost of living in our economic systems. I still trust in the Marxist Dream of Classless Society despite its failings. We do not have to aim at utopia but we can be guided by some useful basics in that doctrine!


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

I Met a Thief