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Kenyan teachers to strike, ignoring calls for wage restraint

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

NAIROBI (Reuters) - The Kenyan union representing more than 200,000 state school teachers on Monday said it will go on strike over payment of allowances, adding to the government's woes as it struggles to put a lid on wages and keep control of the budget.

President Uhuru Kenyatta said days after his inauguration in April that the state could not afford a bigger wage bill. But he faced almost immediate calls from members of parliament for higher salaries, fuelling concern that other state workers could follow suit.

Analysts have said other state employees may be inspired to push for better terms after already well-paid MPs secured generous benefits even if their salary demands were not met.

"The strike will start immediately after midnight," Wilson Sossion, Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) chairman, told the union's top officials. "We have negotiated enough and signed an agreement. This time we must reach the promised land."

Thousands of secondary school teachers began strike action last week. The latest announcement means that action will become nationwide and will include primary schools.

The union has demanded that the state body responsible for teachers' pay agree to implement what they say is a 1997 deal for housing, medical and transport allowances.

"The discussions between the teachers union and government have not broken down," said government spokesman Muthui Kariuki, adding the government sought an "amicable solution".

The government says teacher demands are unsustainable. The president wants to cut a public sector wage bill that is now 50 percent of annual tax revenue, while the International Monetary Fund puts the global benchmark at about 35 percent.

Inflation is running at about 4 percent in Kenya.

Teachers' salaries range from about 16,000 Kenyan shillings per month to 142,000 shillings ($190 to $1,600). They are seeking extra allowances on top of those salaries.

Kenyatta on Friday directed government agencies and teachers unions to negotiate, the second directive in a week after the initial deadline lapsed without any development.

Teachers went on strike in September demanding more teachers be hired to cope with a surge in student numbers after then President Mwai Kibaki introduced free primary and secondary education.

(Reporting by Humphrey Malalo; Editing by Edmund Blair)

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/thomson-reuters/130624/kenyan-teachers-strike-ignoring-calls-wage-restraint