By Stephen Kafeero
Nyaburu Merab, a teacher at Bat Valley Primary School, is at crossroads with life. She is torn between staying on her job of miserable pay or leaving it and be jobless. She is now a Grade V teacher, having upgraded from Grade III. But she still earns a salary of Shs260,000 she was receiving as a Grade III teacher.
“I have two children in secondary school, I have to pay their school fees, transport, rent and other expenses,” Nyaburu laments.
Nyaburu’s case is not an isolated matter. It cuts across all teachers in government schools in Uganda who have to cope with a paltry net pay of Shs200,000 (after taxes) per month amid the escalating cost of living.
This generic chronic poor remuneration among the teaching fraternity has driven the Uganda National Teachers Union (UNATU), the umbrella body that unites teachers in the country, to demand better pay from the government by July 27 or else they lay down their tools.
At a press conference on July 12, the UNATU National Vice Chairman James Tweheyo outlined a number of demands they want government to fulfill. The teachers are demanding 100% salary increment. This means if this demand is met by the government, teachers like Nyaburu, even at her current underpayment, would be receiving a Shs546,000 salary per month. Tweheyo says the teachers have been hit by the rising cost of living in the country yet the government is not addressing their plight.
They want the Pay as You Earn tax threshold to be raised from Shs130,000 currently to Shs260,000. “As teachers we have always pushed the government to engage us but this has not been forthcoming,” he said.
This financial year, the government released an affirmative budget for scientists but science teachers were not catered for. “Aren’t they scientists too?” Tweheyo asked.
The UNATU also wants teachers working in hard-to-reach areas to be paid their allowances on time. They also want the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) they made with the government some time back to be operationalised. The CBA provides an opportunity for workers to bargain with their employees. Tweheyo questions how the government determines what is appropriate for the teachers when they are never consulted in determining their remuneration. They want the government to look into teachers’ welfare and other employment issues.
According to Tweheyo, there are more than 1,000 private schools that partnered with the government under the Universal Secondary Education programme but have not received funding from the government. “How then do you expect these schools to run?” Ssensamba Gonza, the UNATU Secretary, interjects.
The teachers are also demanding early remittances of realistic grants to primary, secondary and tertiary institutions. They want the capitation grant which currently stands at Shs100 per pupil per day under Universal Primary Education (UPE) to be remitted to schools and the government to increase it because it is very little.
Kenya increased the salaries of teachers by 41% last year. This led to an increment from Kshs11611 to Kshs13,037 for the lowest paid teacher. This is about UGshs351999 compared to Shs260,000 for the lowest paid teacher in Uganda.
Mary Sabano, a Grade III teacher at Dube Rock Primary in Butaleja district says the net pay of Shs200,000 the primary teachers receive is nearly useless because of the cost of living.
She is critical of UNATU though, which she says has not been helping teachers much. Nevertheless she is happy UNATU is presenting their demands to the government. “They [UNATU] do deduct money from us but we are happy that they are finally coming to help us,” said Sabano.
Stephen Legesi, the head-teacher of Bat Valley Primary School, says they work under appalling conditions. He says government allocates Shs6000 to each pupil per year and the money even comes late. “I wish the government could let us close early this term because we are in a financial crisis,” he said.
The relevant ministries seem to be apportioning blame to each other and none of them is taking responsibility for the teachers’ concerns.
Aggrey Kibenge, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Education and Sports, said the teachers’ wages is not the ministry’s responsibility. He said it’s the responsibility of the Ministry of Public Service.
On the Collective Bargaining Agreement, Kibenge said the ministry met with UNATU on July 4 and assured them that the ministry would discuss the matter with their Public Service counterparts. “This cannot warrant a strike,” said Kibenge.
Kibenge says it is the Ministry of Finance that allocates grants to primary and secondary schools and tertiary institutions. He says since the Ministry of Education does not have a budget for the teachers’ demands, it cannot solve them.
Jonas Tumwine, the Public Relations Officer for Ministry of Public Service, denied responsibility over teachers’ demands. He said the responsibility of Public Service is to pay teachers and that all teachers received their June salaries.
“Wait when the teachers go on strike, then you will see those responsible coming up,” said Tumwine.
However, UNATU was not without blame. Some teachers The Independent talked to, said the Union had not delivered on some of the promises it made to them. According to a teacher at Kololo Secondary School who preferred to remain anonymous, said UNATU promised to give laptops to member teachers. But the plan has never materialised yet the Ministry of Public Service has continued to deduct 3% of the teachers’ salaries and remitting it to UNATU.
The deputy head-teacher of Kololo Secondary School said they were not officially aware of the strike because UNATU had not informed them.
Nyaburu and other teachers face a myriad problems but ultimately it’s the innocent school children who suffer the brunt of the strike for they will not get the quality education they need and yarn for.