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Dear Government: Please pay your employees well

04 September 2015, 21:30 Ann Muigai

Nairobi - The battle between the government and civil servants has been on for as long as we can all remember. Teachers, nurses, and other officials regularly hit the roof and cause havoc, in demand for, amongst other issues, pay increment, allowances, and promotions.

Civil servants over the years have cried foul claiming that the public sector is characterized by large vertical inequalities in wages. They claim that workers in higher ranking jobs receive higher pay than those in lower group jobs like teaching. The rise of trade union activity has overseen the acceleration of employees’ demand for higher and fair pay. The results are always the same, though, long unfruitful court battles.

The teachers demand for salary increment dates back to 1997 when teachers lobbied for a pay review, claiming their wages were too low. The pay rise menace took shape in mid-1997 when the government struck a deal with the teachers who were demanding a 300 per cent pay rise. The battle has been on and off since then, with the two parties playing cat and mouse.

Recently, the Employment and Labor Relations Court awarded the teachers a 50-60 pay increment. The award stirred mixed reactions across the country and among stakeholders. Some observers are claiming that the increase will demand sustainability and harmonization in the public sector, saying that a lasting solution will be found when all employees get equal remuneration for a similar job and qualification. The court ruling is yet to be honored, and the Kenya National Union of Teachers on Wednesday announced the start of a national job boycott to press the government to pay its members higher salaries.

The nurses too have had their share of run-ins with the government. The nurses boycotted work since August 17 over late payment of wages. The nurses are also on the rampage demanding salary increment and promotion at work. As the strikes by nurses across the country continue to cripple services at health facilities, the government has announced the sacking of the nurses on strike. Both parties in question here have made agreements with relevant government bodies yet nothing seems to materialize. The failure to honor agreements and implementation has seen nationwide strikes that paralyze services in various institutions.

As we await the outcome, I presume that everyone is as tired as I am of this menace. A lasting solution should be found. I feel that the government needs to evaluate the existing employment framework in the public sector. Since I‘m a fervent supporter of the “equal pay for work of equal value” principle, I support the teachers and nurses’ demand to get the same remuneration for work of the same value.  Salary increments henceforth should only be based purely on performance.

Since Kenya is clearly still struggling with public sector wage determination, a remuneration framework is most urgent to oversee the fair compensation of the civil servants. Failure to draw a substantial wage structure will only cause frequent demands for increased wages from various ends of the public sector, decade after decade.

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