WANJURAH: Why teachers should welcome their latest CBA with TSC

I doubt that developments in the education sector in the past week have endeared the teachers unions to their members.

On the contrary, KNUT and KUPPET officials are probably very unpopular with teachers at the moment. Their members might be sulking from the “evidence” that union leaders are not the best negotiators in town. You can almost hear the loud murmurs of frustrated expectations with the deal signed with TSC.

Teachers may understandably strain to put a finger on a solid take-home from the collective bargaining deal with TSC. They are, after all, accustomed to real money in the bank from past deals.  They have little time for the finer detail. Their unions and government laboured explanation of why the CBA is not a gift-wrapped toy has scarcely helped matters.

Yet I think the truth is less hollow. At least from my understanding and past experience, there is some meat on the bone.  I like the idea, for instance, that teachers now have a defined subsistence allowance. That should buy some dignity for teachers spending the night away from their station.

That has not been the case. From my recollections, whatever amount a teacher got as per diem was pegged on arbitrariness mirroring the head teacher’s whims. If you were on friendly terms, you might get some generosity. The opposite was true for those out of favour.

The given amount also fluctuated wildly along the prevailing liquidity of the school accounts. If it was at the beginning of the term and the principal was sufficiently philanthropic, you could be up for a pleasant surprise.

By contrast, the mid or end term periods could offer a rude joke. I had the misfortune of witnessing the principal empty his pockets of all the Sh100 he could get for my out-of-station allowance. His efforts yielded Sh1, 200 that was meant to cater for transport, food and accommodation!

On other occasions, the principal would volunteer to write notes introducing teachers to “friendly” lodgings that would charge the bare minimum or accommodate on credit. From one such “discount” hotel, bedbugs feasted on a colleague and I so much that our bodies were left pockmarked.

Even the little money or the principal “kind” interventions were not always guaranteed. You had to time the perfect moment and the right mood. Usually, that required roping in his secretary– at a fee! You would have to hover around her asking: “Joyce, how is he today? Can I try my luck?”

Granted, the principal background was Mathematics and Accounts. That combination is an ideal recipe for a bean counter. But from the anecdotes of fellow teachers in other schools, I gathered that there were many head teachers who treated subsistence allowances as a tool for rewarding or punishing their staffrooms.

I think it is not a farfetched argument that the abject subsistence allowances schools dole may contribute to HIV/Aids infections among teachers. A teacher who is forced into a dingy lodging by financial circumstances may end up picking more than just bedbugs and lice. Miserly loves company.

The “in-breeding” among teachers could also be partly explained on financial constraints. It makes sense to share a bed if the two of you are on a shoestring budget. In my case, the principal gave strong-hints of such cost-cutting strategies whenever a particular lady colleague and I took the boys out!

My school’s principal was an eccentric part-time preacher with an obsession for pairing unmarried teachers. He religiously believed single male teachers with some money in a poverty-stricken neighbourhood were magnet for village girls and HIV/Aids.

From the teachers CBA, I think there was also a deal on transfer allowance. That should allay the turbulence of relocation that teachers go through. Personally, I never had to change schools. But from my experience as a new teacher, I wish the facility could be extended to recruits. They need the help.

I remember my anxieties on learning that the posting letter was in the post office. It was as if a laboratory had mailed the results of a life-or-death medical test. But I pretended to be calm about it. Manifest excitement would have been an antithesis to my brag that I was cut for bigger things.

In truth, my armpits were sticky with the sweat of anxiety and my heart was palpitating with a kaleidoscope of emotions. I fantasised about my posting station: Alliance, Man’gu, Kan’garu…A stronger, counter hunch told me to expect a less glamorous posting. It could therefore have been a school in Mandera, Turkana, Lamu or wherever.

At the post office, I got the letter all right. It was a brown envelop and the “If undelivered, please return to…” left no doubts about the mailer. But I was not about to end my “not interested” pretence show. I folded the unopened letter and put it in my shirt pocket.

Later in the evening, and in the company of siblings and friends, I finally opened it. I was to report to a school near Mutava Musyimi’s village in Mbeere South. Suffice to say my employment letter offered a hardship allowance that had nothing to do with TSC benevolence.

It was an old school that had fallen to neglect and poor management.  Its location was equally neglected with no electricity or running water despite being a few kilometres from the seven folks dams. Its double streams were a con game that I would later learn was a disingenuous fooling of the TSC to commit more teachers than was deserved. Some classes had fewer than 20 students!

The principal was kind enough to write me a note introducing me to the village landlord and committing to act as my guarantor for rent payment. Could the landlord please rent me a room that I would begin paying for once TSC released my salary!

He had asked me was whether I was married or engaged. Neither applied for me then. It was only months later that I understood of his conspiracy with the landlord to house me next to the unmarried lady teacher. In fact, our rooms had a connecting door. His endeavours extended to the staffroom where our desks were next to each other.  He never missed an opportunity to point out her wifely qualities.

But his was not exactly an act of charity. In return, he expected my absolute loyalty including in spying on my colleagues. One day, he picked the smell of alcohol on my breath and pointedly flew into a rage of the futility of assisting a “prodigal son.”

I hope the CBA will free teachers from the burden of such generosity.

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