University union leaders must up negotiating skills
Whether the Universities Academic Staff Union (Uasu) will issue a strike notice is not in question; it is only a matter of time.
The important question, therefore, is what else Uasu can do to achieve its objectives of better terms of service for its members without going the strike route.
There are two major types of negotiation outcomes; lose-lose and win-win. In a lose-lose negotiation, each of the two parties tries to win as much as possible from the other party. Consequently, whatever one party wins the other party loses. The recent teachers strike negotiations were a typical lose-lose; the more the teachers got, the more the government lost and vice-versa.
In a win-win negotiation, each party tries to increase the size of what is being negotiated and, consequently, increase its share without necessarily taking more from the other party. The result is something better for both parties.
The schools laptop project presents Uasu with an opportunity to strike a win-win agreement with the government since it is a costly project that will commit the country for many years to come.
Uasu can consult with its members and come up with proposals to ease the looming economic burden. Whatever savings are realised would then be used to improve conditions for members.
A possible win-win negotiation would see Uasu members prepare digital books and distribute them to schools at a minimal cost or for free. Instead of buying books, parents could then buy laptops.
What the government saves can then be used to improve the terms of Uasu members, especially those who participate in the digitisation project.
Alternatively, if the laptops must be bought, Uasu could propose that they be assembled at local universities. An obvious benefit is job creation and growth of the technology industry.
It is also likely that some neighbouring countries will soon go digital. When that happens, they will inevitably turn to Kenya for educational software, digital books and technicians, among others.
The income generated, again, could be channelled to Uasu members a win-win for all parties.
While not perfect, these ideas are meant to spur the Uasu leadership to engage with its members and come up with proposals that end its losing streak at the negotiating table.
Dr. Edward Mungai, Strathmore Business School
SOURCE: Daily Nation 24th August 2013