KAMPALA: The government has ordered the striking teachers to return to their duty stations by June 24 without fail or risk being scrapped off the payrolls. The Public Service Ministry Permanent Secretary, Catherine Bitarakwate Musingwiire, communicated the decision in her letter to the Uganda National Teachers Union-UNATU, which announced the industrial action.
In her letter, Bitarakwate notes that whereas teachers, just like all other government employees, have the right and freedom to withdraw their labor, the union neither gave the government notice of the strike nor exhausted the dispute settlement mechanisms as required by the public service negotiating, consultative, and dispute settlement Machinery Act.
“The claim that the strike has been ongoing since 2019 and hence there was no need for a new notice is both fallacious and not legally tenable.” Secondly, we have noticed with concern that you and your members have decided to close schools. “We wish to advise you that no teacher, whether on strike or not, has a right or justification to close a public school,” the June 22, 2022 letter reads in part.
While declaring the industrial action last week, the UNATU leadership noted that this was a continuation of their strike that was suspended in 2019 when the government promised to work on their demands agreed upon in the collective bargaining agreement that was signed in 2018.
“… Regrettably, to date, no positive response has been received from the government. “It is important to note that our industrial action that started in 2019 over the same issue was only suspended pending the full implementation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement,” UNATU’s letter to its members announcing the industrial action read.
The current strike resulted from the government’s decision to increase the pay for science teachers by nearly 300 percent, in disregard of their colleagues in the arts and humanities. The increment saw the government increase the pay for graduate and grade V science teachers to Shillings 4 million and Shillings 3 million, up from Shillings 1.1 million and Shillings 796,000, respectively.
With over 120,000 teachers dropping chalk and refusing to attend lessons, the government hurriedly called for a dialogue meeting over the weekend to find a quick solution. Both President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni and his wife and Minister of Education and Sport, Janet Kataaha Museveni, attended the meeting.
During the meeting, teachers, under the slogan “All Teachers Matter,” tabled their demands for pay equity and harmonisation among teachers of various subjects, support staff, and school administrators at all levels of education. However, after hours of dialogue without any concrete results, the teachers resolved to continue with their industrial action despite overtures for reconsideration from the President.
As earlier communicated, the permanent secretary reechoed the teacher’s demands for a pay rise, which cannot be addressed in the coming financial year, whose budget has already been approved and passed. Those who are unable to work under the current conditions are free to resign.
She also emphasises that all schools are expected to be open and operational without fail by Monday next week, advising teachers who do not agree with the available options as suggested by the government to seek legal redress.
“By copy of this letter, the chief administrative officer and town clerk are called upon to take stock of the teachers present and submit absent teachers by June 30, for eventual removal from the payroll,” she writes.
Filbert Baguma, the UNATU secretary-general, noted that they have received the letter but it changes nothing. Baguma added that the claim that their industrial action is illegal is ungrounded, thus calling on teachers not to panic over the intimidation of being scrapped off the payroll.
“These are the tricks they have been using. We are going to respond to their letter soon, but the central point is that our strike is still ongoing up to when our concerns are addressed. Teachers should remain firm. This time around, we are not going to bow to any pressure or intimidation,” said Baguma.
Baguma went on to say that the resumption of teaching and learning is only contingent on how quickly the government addresses the issue of equitable salary increases for all teachers across the board. The government allocated the ministry of education Shillings 95 billion in the current budget for the enhancement of teachers’ salaries.
If it were distributed equally across the board to the 169, 000 teaching staff, it would mean that each teacher would get an additional 46,800/-per month. It should be noted that UNATU has already proposed a salary increase plan for all teachers and other staff. According to UNATU’s draft, secondary school and primary school head teachers should receive shillings 10 million and shillings 4.5 million, respectively.
UNATU is also pushing the government to pay 4.8 million shillings to graduate science teachers and 4.5 million shillings to those teaching arts and humanities. They are also advocating for a Shilling 1.35 million minimum wage for primary school teachers. However, our reporter has also learned that President Museveni has already proposed a minimum pay of 3.5 million schillings for art teachers.
But this can only take effect in the 2023–2024 financial year.