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Kenyan court ruling on teacher pay will alleviate 'hardship'

Supreme Court Justice Smokin Wanjala (R) with other judges, 25 March 2013
Supreme Court Justice Smokin Wanjala (R) with other judges, 25 March 2013 Reuters/Noor Khamis

Kenya’s Supreme Court on Monday said that the government must give teachers a pay rise of at least 50 per cent, upholding an earlier court ruling. The decision is seen as a victory for Kenyan teachers in a long-running dispute over teachers’ salaries which had dragged on for almost two decades.


“We really appreciate the authority of the court and its independence in upholding the decision of the lower courts,” said Akelo Misori, secretary general of Kenya’s Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (KUPPET).

Kenya’s Teachers Service Commission (TSC), a government agency which deals with human resources within the education sector, had tried to block the pay rise.

But Justice Smokin Wanjala said the Supreme Court “lacks jurisdiction” to rule on a case in which the TSC had sought to challenge an earlier ruling by the Court of Appeal.

“What it means is that now the teachers will be motivated to carry out their work,” union leader Misori told RFI. “It was an award based on the economic circumstances which have been dictated by inflation and all the other aspects of hardships and the life of professional teachers in Kenya.”

The ruling raises questions about how the government will finance the pay rise and do it quickly enough to meet its obligations for August pay packets - otherwise the TSC risks being in contempt of court.

Kwame Owino, chief executive officer of Kenya’s Institute of Economic Affairs, told RFI that the government has several options.

“The first option is if the government of Kenya had some assets that they could sell quickly,” said Owino, pointing out that this is not very feasible in order to meet the deadline.

“The second is to raise taxes,” he said, concluding that it is unlikely that the government would be able to do that immediately.

“So the third option, which in my view is the most useful, would be to just raise debt, raising treasury bills off the market,” said the Kenyan economist.

Estimates put the cost of the pay rise at about 15-16 billion shillings or around 125 million euros. It is to be phased in over four years with incremental increases every year.

If the government does not award the pay rise this month, Kenyan teachers unions have threatened to take industrial action.

“We are likely to paralyse learning in this country should the government fail to implement this,” said the KUPPET head, explaining that a teachers strike is their last resort. In the first instance, the unions will go back to court to force the government to implement the pay hike.

Kenya’s government has yet to respond to the Supreme Court decision. RFI spoke to Leah Rotich, Kenya’s acting education secretary, who said she was unavailable for comment.

Richard Kipsang, principal secretary in the ministry of education, science and technology, was not reachable by telephone. Nancy Macharia, the head of the TSC was also not reachable at the time of writing.

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