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Can govt meet teachers’ pay demands?

By Stephen Kafeero

Both primary and secondary school teachers threatened a countryside strike demanding 100% salary rise. The government responded defiantly saying there was no money in the budget to cater for the wage increment.

The Uganda National Teachers Union (UNATU) said the teachers’ poor pay has been compounded by the escalating cost of living driven by the falling Shilling and inflation.  UNATU members are 80,236 (52%) of all the teachers in government primary and secondary schools. This is a fairly big representative voice of the teaching fraternity and if the teachers execute their strike sustainably, the country’s secondary and primary education could run into serious trouble.

The teachers are not alone in the demand for a better pay. Doctors and other civil servants have in the past gone on strike or threatened to strike over poor remuneration. And the failure to give them a pay-raise has been justified on account that the government treasury cannot raise the money.

The government’s claim that there is no money to increase teachers’ salaries has met mixed reactions from the public. Some people think the teachers are making unrealistic salary demands which the government cannot afford without crippling the national treasury. But critics say if the government cut down on its wasteful expenditure on the huge public administration, the government would recoup enough resources to pay teachers a reasonable salary.

Currently, Uganda has 151,910 teachers on the government payroll teaching in primary and secondary schools. Out of these, 129,341 are primary teachers while 22,569 teach in secondary schools.

The lowest paid primary school teacher earns about Shs260,000, which UNATU wants to be doubled to about Shs520000. If the demand for 100% salary raise if met for the 129,341 primary teachers, the national monthly wage bill would raise to about Shs67 billion. This would translate into  about Shs804 billion annually.

The lowest Grade V (diploma holder) secondary school teacher earns Shs350,000 while his graduate counterpart gets Shs450,000. If the lowest salary, Shs350,000 is taken as the yardstick, a secondary teacher would earn Shs700,000 a month after the 100% increment. The government treasury would pay out Shs16 billion every month, which would translate into Shs192 billion annually. Therefore the total wage bill for primary and secondary school teachers, after 100% salary raise, would come to over Shs996 billion annually.   When other variations in salary due to the difference in length of one’s period in the service and additional qualifications and the difference between Grade V and Graduate salaries (for secondary teachers) are factored, the wage bill grows to about one trillion shillings a year. This amounts to about 10% of the total national budget for 2011/2012 which stands at Shs9.5 trillion. Can the government afford that?

Dr Sam Lyomoki, Workers MP and Chairman of the Social Services Committee of Parliament, says the teacher’s demands are legitimate but could not say whether the government has the financial ability to meet them. He only says that as a parliamentary committee they will engage the government and the teachers so that their demands are addressed. “The teachers may not get the 100% they want, but their salaries and other issues will be looked into according to what the government can afford,” says Lyomoki. He does not say, in his view, what amount of salary increment he considers affordable by the government.

Lyomoki says they are also handling the health sector because they also have similar grievances.

Mwambutsya Ndebesa, a professor of history at Makerere University, says the government’s claim of “no money in the budget “ for teachers’ salary raise has no merit. “The government is always coming up with supplementary budgets, let it come up with one in this case,” Ndebesa says.

On January 4, 2011, a special sitting of parliament approved an ‘emergency’ supplementary budget of Shs600 billion, which sparked fury among the public and donors. On January 13, 2011, donors held a heated meeting with the Ministry of Finance officials in Kampala over the matter. The supplementary budget was widely viewed as calculated to give President Museveni more funds for his election campaign. There was also outrage over the purchase of six SU-30 MK2 fighter jets from Russia by the government at Shs1.3 trillion when many social service sectors like health and education were in a pathetic state.

However, while agreeing that teachers deserve a pay raise, Mwambutsya says the demand for 100% salary increment for teachers is unrealistic because, apart from being too high, it might even lead to inflation. He implored the government to look into the teachers’ demands and increase their salaries to a reasonable percentage.

When contacted UNATU national chairperson Margaret Rwabushaija said that she was puzzled about what is fair or not about their demands because the government has not presented its position to them.

She said that they presented their case to the Social Services Committee of Parliament and they would meet all the national teachers’ representatives on July 27 to brief them on the progress of their demands. “I’m very confident that the government can do something about the teachers’ demands,” Rwabushaija said.

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