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We are dying because of depression – JSS National spokesperson

Junior Secondary School (JSS) trainee teachers have made demands to the Teachers’ Service Commission (TSC) to confirm them in full-time employment or else they will stay away from learning institutions.

At the heart of their demands is the insistence that they be given permanent, pensionable contracts and just compensation for the time they have devoted to unpaid work.

This firm stance comes in the wake of a significant ruling by the Employment and Labour Relations Court (ELRC), which found their terms and conditions of employment to be invalid.

“We are here for the third time and the last time we were here we were lied to and told that they would give us an answer. We waited and got no answer. Today we say Macharia come out and explain to us why we are losing so many moguls. We are dying of depression. We say to TSC, if you think we are children, let us tell you that we were not born yesterday. We know our rights,” said Boniface Omari, JSS national spokesperson.

“Give us what we deserve. We are here to put pressure on our employer to change our conditions from internship to permanent and pensionable status. We also want them to compensate us for the time we worked without pay,” Omari lamented.

Jane Mwikali, an intern teacher at JSS, shared her share of devastation in this predicament, explaining that as a single mother of one, she is in a very difficult situation considering the bills she has to pay and the food she has to provide. “Sh17,000 is very little money to feed an adult in a month. Hiyo ni madharau. I have bills and debts that have accumulated. I can’t go on like this. I’m too stressed and I don’t know what to do,” said Mwikali.

She added that they were being used to push through the Competency Based Curriculum (CBC) without pay, yet they work just as hard as permanent and retired teachers. “We can’t go on working like slaves. We are tired and we want to be taken seriously. Where do they think we are going to get transport to work every day, or even money to buy food? Equal work, equal pay,” she said.

In December, the Employment and Labour Relations Court (ELRC) issued interim orders binding trainee teachers to their existing contracts with the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) until further orders are issued on March 7, 2024.

Justice Byram Ongaya declared on December 21 last year that the trainee teachers must remain on their current contracts pending the hearing and determination of the petition. The case, filed by the Forum for Good Governance and Human Rights, challenged the use of duly trained teachers as interns, arguing that the practice violates the Constitution and fails to ensure the necessary standards of education for learners.

Key points of contention in the contracts included the non-remunerative nature of the internship despite a monthly stipend of Sh20,000 and the non-renewable nature of the 11-month internship from February 1, 2023, to December 31, 2023.

Despite President William Ruto’s assurance on December 17 that trainee teachers would be guaranteed employment after two years of service, TSC CEO Murithi disputed this, describing the alleged two-year internship policy as non-existent and illegal. Murithi also criticised the TSC’s push for trainee teachers to renew their non-renewable contracts without official communication through TSC circulars.

Owino Okello, chairman of JSS teachers in Nairobi County, underlined the gravity of the situation: “In light of the ELRC ruling, we wish to inform all JSS teachers across the country that we will obey the court ruling by staying away from schools.

The decision, taken after careful consultation with legal experts and stakeholders, underlines the determination of the JSS teachers to remain steadfast until their demands are met. Chief among these demands is the confirmation of JSS teachers on permanent and pensionable terms and conditions and compensation for the period they have worked without pay.

“All teachers will take part in a peaceful demonstration as a call and agitation by the TSC to comply with the ruling. We demand to confirm JSS teachers on permanent and pensionable terms and to compensate JSS teachers for the period they worked without pay,” Okello reiterated.

While the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) is free to enter into negotiations by the court ruling, failure to meet the demands of the JSS teachers will have consequences. Mr Okello warned: “Continued strikes by JSS teachers in Nairobi and across the country will turn the TSC headquarters into our staff room. JSS teachers will not report back to school at any time as this will be considered illegal.”

As schools reopen for the second academic term of the year, a cloud of uncertainty hangs over learning institutions. The decision by Junior Secondary School (JSS) teachers not to return to school until their demands are met poses a significant challenge to the continuity of education for learners across the country.

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