Nairobi, Kenya (PANA) - The strike by Kenyan teachers, university lecturers and doctors is a signal that the middle-class in the East African nation has been worst hit by the high cost of living.
Apart from the rising cost of domestic borrowing, which has forced most firms to retrench staff, most of them much younger than 60 years, the statutory retirement age for public servants, the clamour for more salaries in Kenya was recently accentuated by Parliament’s own demands.
Parliamentary Speaker Kenneth Marende recently supported calls for higher salaries for parliamentarians, saying as the government’s watchdog, MPs should earn above the rest of the constitutional officeholders to retain their independence.
Marende said it was unfair for parliament to supervise statutory organs whose executives earn far much more than MPs and still expect fair delivery of salaries. MPs earn about US$ 10,000 a month, the highest paid lot amongst the commonwealth legislators around the world.
The salaries body was set up under the constitution to check arbitrary pay awards by civil servants and state office holders.
While Kenya’s economy has been growing steadily over the past decade, apart from the disruptions caused by the 2007/08 post-election violence, the cost of labour has also continued to grow, piling pressure on corporate entities, some of which are forced to spend up to 70 percent of earnings on staff.
Water Minister Charity Ngilu, who is running to become the next President, says the “bread and butter” revolution in Kenya is a result of “basic needs” which must urgently be addressed by future government.
Teachers are demanding a 300 percent payhike agreed with the government in 1997, to be implemented while lecturers, who often complain of a plot to “keep the academic society deliberately poor”, are demanding the fulfillment of return-to-work agreements with the government.
Doctors, who joined a strike started by the intern doctors working at all government hospitals, insist theirs is not about salaries, but on the general state of public hospitals and the neglect of the sector.
However, Kenyan insurers complain that the poor regulation of the medical sector has left too much room for doctors aiming to rise to the social class, among a circle of friends who play golf, cricket and polo, to charge patients highly to sustain a more expensive lifestyle.
The government appears to have been caught unaware on the latest series of strikes but has resorted more to the law, using the courts to declare the strike by the three professional groups illegal.
“The cabinet deliberated on the issue of the wage bill and gave the guidelines…there exists a stipulated constitutional and legal framework that has been supplemented with clear guidelines by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission,” the cabinet said in its statement Thursday.
The government has moved to court to stop the strikes by declaring them illegal and allow the government to take disciplinary measures usually sackings without benefits to those who picket.
The Kenyan Cabinet wants the civil servants to align their salary demands to what has been approved for the annual budget and that pay talks should comply with budget cycle.
The ministers said more salary demands would affect the economy and impact on the implementation of the new constitution, which tasks the Salaries Commission.
-0- PANA AO/VAO 15Sept2012