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On the teachers’ strike

 

Teacher on blackboard. PHOTO PEAS (Promoting Equality in African Schools)

How government may have opened a Pandora’s box by creating huge salary disparities among its employees

THE LAST WORD | ANDREW M. MWENDA | There seems to be haphazardness in the government of Uganda that is hard to fathom. One case in point is the way they have caused a strike among arts teachers in primary and secondary schools. One day, the government woke up and increased the salaries of science teachers with diplomas and working in government schools from (between) Shs 700,000 and Shs 900,000 to Shs3million. Then it increased salaries of teachers with degrees from (between) Shs1million and Shs1.4million to Shs4million. In each of these cases, salaries are increased fourfold. I find this strange.

What explains this excessive salary increases? It is rare for companies and organisations – leave alone government – to quadruple salaries across the board and do so overnight.  Such a windfall is not even good for the person receiving it – it can turn the lives of many up-side down as they try to adjust to radically transformed lifestyle overnight. Second, there is no evidence that paying science teachers better improves the quality of teaching or even learning. So, what is the main objective of these salary hikes? Third, it creates an apartheid system where some teachers (those teaching science subjects) earn four times more than those teaching arts subjects but with the same qualifications.

It is no wonder that arts teachers have gone on strike asking for similar pay. The arts teachers may not sustain the strike for long if government sticks to its guns, insisting they go back to teach or will be considered to have abdicated their duties. Many may be forced by circumstances to return and teach without a salary increase. But they will be demoralised and demotivated. The consequence of this could be that they reduce their quality of teaching. Thus, while government is unlikely to improve, the quality of science education, it will degrade the quality of arts education.

Why did government create such a huge disparity in salaries between arts and science teachers with similar qualifications? One can understand if the difference is 10 to 20%. But a difference of 300% and more is quite staggering. Did anyone consider the psychological effect of such pay disparities among teachers with similar qualifications in the same school?

Now government is caught in a catch 22 situation. It cannot reverse the salary hike for science teachers because it has created all these wild expectations. Should it back-peddle and cut down the proposed salary hikes for science teachers, they will be demoralised and demotivated. If it keeps them, it will demoralise and demotivate arts teachers. The best solution would be to create some degree of salary parity by hiking the salaries of arts teachers. But this would create even worse budgetary problems.

Government has about 250,000 teachers on its payroll. Assuming the average salary is going to be Shs3.5million (the mean between Shs3million and Shs4million), there is an average increment of roughly Shs2.8million per teacher. That means government would have to increase teachers’ salaries by an extra Shs7.5 trillion. Where does government expect to get this money from? Assuming it increased teachers’ salaries, this would lead to contagion.

Immediately medical workers will demand a salary hike, university lectures will follow suit, policemen, the army and prison, prosecutors and state attorneys, road workers, civil servants etc. – everyone will form a union to demand wage parity and fairness. And who would blame them? Did someone consider these likely consequences? Perhaps government has done this so many times for medical workers, judicial officers, MPs and it thinks it can always get away with it. But there is always a tipping point.

The major problem here is that government of Uganda has a very poor and opportunistic way of increasing salaries. This is what has created despondency in the public sector. One day, government woke up and increased salaries of medical workers, especially doctors, by about 300%. It did the same for judges and then top civil service officials, some of whose salaries went up by 500%. Yet the prudent way to enhance people’s salaries should be phased over time. For instance, government can decide that every year there will be automatic salary increases of all public sector workers to accommodate the cost of inflation.

The second step would be for government to project, like it had done for lectures at public universities, a 20% real increase in public sector wages every two years for a specific period of time – say ten years. That would double wages over that period, which is prudent and does not create wild wage windfalls that have sudden and destabilising psychological and lifestyle changes.  This would give hope to public sector employees without creating havoc to the budget. And government should avoid trying to create special categories in the public sector who are more deserving. This kind of discrimination will create envy and malice among and between people of similar qualifications working in the same place. The conflicts resulting from such can undermine the quality of work.

Take the example of current crisis of teachers’ salaries. Imagine a head of school of a primary school who is an arts teacher earning Shs900,000. All of a sudden, his science teacher, a subordinate, earns Shs3million. What will be the impact of this on their work relationship? One does not need to have studied industrial psychology to tell that such a situation is likely to cause conflicts among teachers in the same school. And what is likely to be the effect of such envy and malice and conflict on the students?

Finally, about 40% of students in primary schools and over 60% of students in secondary schools, study in private schools. The total number of teachers in private schools is about 350,000. Very few private schools in Uganda can afford these outrageous salaries. What is going to be the effect of such huge salary disparities on private schools who are vital for our education system? And these salary increases are coming after COVID-19 which left private schools with huge losses resulting from two years of no revenue and high interest-bearing loans from banks.

Government in Uganda has little consideration of the contribution made by private education providers in the country. In fact, the essence of private schools has been to shift pressure from public schools in order to make universal primary and secondary education affordable by government. Without private schools, the government’s education bill would more than double. Private education is therefore a subsidy parents give government.

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amwenda@independent.co.ug

 

 

 

 

4 comments

  1. Godfrey kambere

    Uganda’s development path has been lacking strategy since 1989 -/just look how tax related smuggling has killed honest enterprise. What you have not pointed out is the motive behind this harebrained policy. This follows closely on the heels of an I’ll conceived new curriculum which is totally out of sync with majority of teachers I have talked to.
    The situation is further compounded NY profit minded publishers shoving I’ll prepared materials down the throats of our young learners.
    And the monies charged for teaching this rubbish to our young stars leaves everyone who can’t afford foreign education a loser.

  2. Truth be told. You have no functioning government in Uganda.

    • Dear Harry

      i Support your sentiments but differ a bit. There is a functioning government but one where Mr Tibahaburwa told the public a couple of years ago that “he is not their servant but works to look after his family…. ” . So when he and his wife make silly and unbelievable decisions like the teachers’ salary on – they are working for themselves ; when they give each MP ug shs 40m/ for passing a supplementary budget that benefits State House mostly- They are working for their family ; When they allow hospitals to rot, pay staff in hospitals including Doctors peanuts while they send everyone linked to them abroad on the tax-payers expense- They are working for their family ; When they give a monopoly corrupt foreigner/Pinnetti a contract with all manners of tax breaks for 10 years on Uganda’s lucrative cash crop – They are working for their family …….. [ Scandals are unexhaustive]

      Back to this article, Mwenda in rare occassions when he is lucid, writes an unbiased article. This is one of them . BUT he will retreat when Tibahaburwa steps in and says that he is the one who originated the idea. Now, Mwenda’s idol and his family’s employer Tibahaburwa does not say those words in a remorseful way but in a chest-thumping way telling the country ” I am responsible for this or that (all the silliness in government ) because I can and nobody should question me ” kind of attitude.
      I wish Mwenda would stop acting surprised when once in a while he writes about a bizarre government policy. I should not act surprised because if he did his research a tiny bit he would have the answers.

      Ordinary Ugandans are not surprised but angry about corruption, inefficiency, carelessness …. of the way Kaguta Tibahaburwa is using the Government Funds.

      To me when I see the President who abolished the Teachers Service Commission and the Public Service Commission , I am not surprised. These commissions among their responsibilities was to gather information about employment needs in their areas of jurisdiction . They then advertised vetted , employed and fixed salaries , grades and other benefits for those people employed. They were government agencies that worked on behalf of the government but staffed with professionals. That system was replaced by one and only Kaguta Tibahaburwa who literary appoints even the primary 1 school teachers , judges etc …. and determines their salaries , salary increments , terms of service , benefits …. [Talk about a serious case of micro- managing a country and every aspects of it ]

      So no surprises in what Mwenda has written, but anger mixed with sadness and frustration about where Uganda is heading under NRM/ Kaguta

  3. 1.Uganda has attained the middle income status because of Industrialization and Agriculture so its natural for the government to assume that science is the magic bullet that can make her attain more Economic goals.
    2.Governments normally implement drastic reforms to achieve some goals the only control measure is that they should be temporary reforms .You all remember the One child policy of China that was supposed to control the rapid population growth it was opposed in the 1980’s but China benefited from it.
    3.The academic world is overrated at some point;When i was still young i thought that to become a Professor or PhD holder one had to have invented something new.But when you read the synopsis of PhD applicants for arts based subjects some of the topics are ridiculous some can carry out a study on why women get pregnant,why girls fear sciences and boom he/she obtains a PhD.
    4.Ugandan Professors are currently earning 15m just give it time every Ugandan will become a professor.what does it take to become a professor?You need to have successfully supervised PhD students up to completion of their studies ,had your papers published in known Journals yes this is good but when you compare the works of a science Professor to that of a arts one; they don’t deserve the same pay.
    5.There are Ugandans who have no source of income.What is so special about civil servants? who do they want to hold at ransom?I cried when M7 requested the Finance officials to budget for the Parish Development Model so that all Ugandans can benefit from the small resource envelop.
    6.Money is never enough even Sudhir may complain that he is broke.
    7.Civil servants and the politicians are a bad role model to Ugandans thats why the masses react angrily to what they earn. they never say enough and no to rewards and benefits offered to them; The Chief Justice, Speaker of Parliament ,PM,VP are all entitled to huge benefits once they retire one wonders cant they afford their own cars,houses and servants?
    8.M7 is currently surrounded by first class patriotic scientists especially those in the oil,mining and agriculture sector you can not blame him.His personal assistants the handsome Dr.Kenneth Omona and Joseph Okia are all Doctors.
    9.During the lock down all civil servants were earning 100% of all their pay and allowances wasnt this some kind of fraud?How do you pay people who were just at home chilling?

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