Pay discrepancies for professionals thwart movement of labour

Saturday July 20 2013

Kenyan teachers demonstrate on the streets demanding a better pay package. Photo/File

Kenyan teachers demonstrate on the streets demanding a better pay package. Photo/File 

By Joint Report The EastAfrican

Kenyan teachers have opened a wider salary gap ahead of their East African Community (EAC) counterparts with a new pay deal struck last week, a development that is expected to further complicate movement of professionals across the region.

Although the teachers got Ksh17 billion ($200 million) instead of the Ksh46 billion ($541 million) that they were demanding, the new structure released on Wednesday — ending a four-week strike — has put the average salary for the tutors at more than double that of their counterparts in Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.

A look at the packages of other professionals — such as nurses, lecturers and doctors — in the EAC paints a similar picture, with those in Kenya earning more, save for university lecturers.
This means Kenyan professionals seeking employment outside the country are likely to take wage cuts as the region’s labour market finds its supply and pay structure balance under the Common Market Protocol signed in 2010.

Though the EAC had intended to ease movement of labour across regional borders, pay discrepancies across countries have rendered this difficult to achieve.

Labour market analysts say cross-border movement of professionals such as teachers could cause pay trouble, citing huge differences in wages across the region.

Fears are emerging that those seeking employment in neighbouring states where the pay is lower may expect similar remuneration, laying the ground for a conflict with employers.

A Kenyan primary school teacher now earns between $302 and $2,300 per month. In Tanzania, it is an average of $150 while their Ugandan counterpart can expect $102. Their colleagues in Rwanda are however only making an estimated $91 a month.

Comparatively, the highest-paid professors in Uganda take home at least $1,107 a month. In Kenya, the dons are now pocketing $2,562 in basic pay while tutorial assistants get $844 after a strike last September managed to secure a significant payrise for lecturers.

In Rwanda, professors are paid $2,623. A senior lecturer at a public university earns $1,440 while their junior pockets $1200 a month.

But Ugandan, Rwandan and Kenyan professors are better off seeking employment in Tanzania, where the basic salary for professors starts at $3,200 and that of tutorial assistants — the lowest-paid lecturers — $1,500.

Over the past three years, the region’s nurses and doctors have been demanding for a salary raise and improvement of working conditions.
In Kenya, the lowest-paid doctor (intern) earns $1,557 and the highest paid $5,848).

A physician at Kigali National Teaching Hospital earns $2,500 and a doctor in a public hospital $1,147. A nurse is paid $496 monthly in Kigali.

In Tanzania, doctors earn $600 on average but the Medical Association of Tanzania has been agitating for an increase in wages to $2,167. Nurses earn $300 per month.

The top-most consultants at Mulago Hospital, the national referral hospital in Uganda, earn a gross salary of at least $1,336 as medical workers get much less.

Tough work permit requirements and unharmonised labour laws are also frustrating the bid to draw professionals to the region, labour experts lament, while employers say relaxing restrictions on movement of labour would ease access to human capital, a major asset for businesses.

“Apart from Kenya, in other EAC countries teachers are lumped together with other civil servants. It makes it difficult to represent their interests or negotiate better terms,” said Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) chairman Wilson Sossion.

The differences in the regional labour laws could slow Tanzania’s plans to hire thousands of teachers from the EAC for its public schools.

It had hoped to get a large number from Kenya, which has a surplus of 70,000. It planned to first hire 3,200 mathematics and science secondary school teachers from Kenya and Uganda. 

A 2012 cost of living survey by international human resource consultancy firm Mercer shows Nairobi and Kigali have become less attractive to international workers. The high cost of living poses the danger of making cities less attractive.

But governments have been trying to make public service more attractive for workers. This month, Tanzania attempted to harmonise civil servants’ wages with their private sector counterparts to create a level playing field and minimise frequent strikes by workers.

The salary and base pay increases under Tanzania’s Labour Institution Wage Order 2013, which started on July 1 this year, will implement the government employees’ request to cope with the rising cost of living and price increases of basic commodities.

Gaudentia Kabaka, Minister for Labour and Employment, said the minimum wage will range from $62 to $300 per month depending on the sector of employment.

Ms Kabaka said the decision to increase the wages was taken on the recommendation of the committee formed by the government to look for adjustments in the pay scales as civil service salaries are far less than those of the private sector.

In Rwanda, too, salaries for civil servants are determined by a harmonised structure applicable through job grades, but workers still decry disparities in pay scales.

Meanwhile, Tanzanian teachers are still agitating for better pay.

Nicholas Mgaya, secretary-general of Trade Union Congress of Tanzania (Tucta), said the union has asked the government to increase basic salaries  for civil servants to between $185 and $400 as the cost of living had dented purchasing power.

“The government needs to listen to the demand of the employees to avoid frequent strikes, and failure to that will lead to a countrywide strike,” he said.

During the 2012/2013 financial year there were 175,449 teachers in Tanzania against the recommended 209,085, a shortfall of about 33,636. There are 52,146 teachers in secondary schools against a requirement of 66,049, leading to a deficit of 13,903.

Things are also restive in Uganda, where two strikes are looming. One is by lecturers of Makerere University, who called upon parents not to send their children to college when the semester begins on August 17.

Primary school teachers in Uganda have also threatened to strike when third term begins in September after the government failed to provide for a 15 per cent salary increment as had been promised last year when they demanded that their salaries be doubled.

Doctors are also lobbying for better terms, even as a significant percentage leaves public service every year to seek better opportunities in the private sector and overseas.

In June, the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) signed a collective bargaining agreement with the government to increase their salaries.

In Kenya, brain drain remains a grave concern, in a country where the doctor-patient ratio in public hospitals is estimated at 1:9,000 against the World Health Organisation-recommended 1:1,000.

Leave public service

“It’s a scandal that 80 per cent of interns leave public service within three years of completing their internship,” said Sultani Matendechero, Secretary-General of KMPDU. “They leave to seek employment in the private sector and, even more worryingly, many are leaving the medical profession altogether.

“Our numbers estimate that two to five per cent of pilots in Kenya are actually trained doctors. And I know many who have left medicine to focus on business. This is very troubling, considering how badly we need doctors.”

Reported by Christine Mungai, Dicta Asiimwe, Kabona Esiara and Mike Mande