Nairobi - Kenya's president on Sunday urged teachers who have been on strike for about three weeks to return to work, saying their demand for a pay rise of up to 60% could not be met.
President Uhuru Kenyatta told the nation that the state wage bill already accounted for more than 50% of budget spending and hiking teachers' pay by that amount would require raising taxes, borrowing more or cutting development spending.
"None of these options is tenable. Our country must live within its means," he said in an address broadcast on radio and television, adding that steps such as tax hikes or more borrowing would drive up inflation and slow the economy.
The teachers' strike and threats by other unions of solidarity stoppages has added pressure to Kenya's finances.
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The budget deficit for the financial year starting July 1 was already forecast to be 8.7% of gross domestic product, from 7.8 percent last year.
The teachers' unions have more than 280 000 members. School term dates have already been changed to cope with the strike.
"Frankly, it is wrong to hold our children hostage to wage demands," he said, adding teachers' salaries had been raised in recent years to match those of other civil servants and a further increase would mean other wages would have to rise too.
A Kenyan labour court will decide on September 25 on the legality of a teachers' strike.
Teachers argued that Kenya's governments have failed to deliver on a deal reached in 1997 to raise pay. Kenyatta dismissed this, saying that deal had been met and Kenyan teachers' pay was higher than others in the region.