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SALARIES: Mixed reactions after teachers start day 1 of strike

President Museveni, First Lady Janet Museveni and the leaders of UNATU at Kololo last year. The teachers have gone ahead to protest selective salary increases. FILE PHOTO PPU

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | A strike is underway for teachers under the Uganda National Teachers Union who are protesting the salary enhancements for Science teachers.

This follows the government’s decision to increase the salaries of science teachers to the tune of sh4million while the art teachers and those in primary schools were not considered. Now, an estimated 120,000 teachers have laid down their tools in protest of what they called a discriminatory enhancement.

At many primary and secondary schools that Uganda Radio Network visited this morning, learners were seen playing in classrooms while others were loitering in the compound with no teachers in sight.

At  St Martin’s Primary School Mulago, all the  21 teachers on the government payroll did not show up. The head teacher, Francis Girongo, says that the school is being run by the seven teachers that are employed privately. According to Girongo, the school has been forced to reschedule midterm assessments because the available teachers cannot supervise them.

At St Joseph’s Nansana, it was confusing as some teachers showed up at the school but declined to teach. Instead, they were found seated under a mango tree near an old Church building from where they were discussing a series of unnecessary expenditures for which Parliament has appropriated resources. They pointed out parliament’s decision to buy posh cars for the speaker and her deputy, and the reported 40 million Shillings allowance that was given to Members of Parliaments prior to the reading of the budget speech yesterday.

Jacob Kiyimba, one of the teachers told URN that they will continue reporting to the school without teaching,m until their grievances are addressed.

However, at the same school, some teachers ignored UNATU’s call and went to class and taught. One of them; Andrew Mugaya, says union leaders are fond of calling for strikes but later meet with the government officials and make deals that only benefit specific individuals. He says, for this reason, he and some other teachers do not want to take part in the strike because it will not benefit them.

Meanwhile, in the Greater Masaka Region, learners have also reported to classrooms without teachers. At Nyendo Public Primary School, only four out of the 14 teachers on the government payroll reported to their duty station on Wednesday and there was no lesson taught by 10 a.m.

Francis Ssematimba, the UNATU Chairperson in Masaka indicates that they asked all the teachers to keep away from schools and that they don’t expect headteachers to keep learners without enough manpower to watch over them.

“We delivered our letters to all the relevant local authorities and we presume that they are aware of the industrial action,” he says.

Mathias Male, the UNATU Chairperson in Sembabule District says his office is also delivering letters to the local authorities communicating the industrial action, and they don’t expect any teachers to be coerced to classes before an agreement is reached with the government.

In Luwero town, the strike has met mixed reception from teachers with some attending classes while others opted to stay away. At Luwero Girls’ Primary School, only three out of 13 teachers have turned up to teach the learners.

Aidah Ssebigajju, the Headteacher of Luwero Girls Primary School says that she has since resolved to attend to some learners until the strike ends. “The strike has already affected us but I can’t close the school. The learners are in classes and am trying to engage some of them as we monitor the strike” Ssebigajju said.

In the Eastern region, learners were stranded in classrooms. At North Road Primary School in Mbale, one of the schools with the biggest enrollment, the 3,000 learners spent the morning seated in classrooms with no teachers attending to them.

The school Headteacher Micheal Wangwe said 21 out of the 48 teachers employed had turned up in school but they were not teaching. Wangwe said that he has decided to distribute learning materials to keep the learners busy.

The situation was however different in secondary schools where a section of teachers, mostly science teachers, were attending to learners. Salim Maude, the Director of Studies at Kampala High School told our reporter that science teachers were teaching but their arts counterparts had not reported to the school.

At Soroti Secondary School,  Betty Iyogil, a teacher of Religious Education says she would not have turned up for classes if the communication from UNATU had arrived early. She however said, her teaching tomorrow will depend on communication from UNATU bosses.

Learners that URN spoke to were confused and dissatisfied with the strike. One of the learners from Ntinda Primary School says they did not know that teachers would not teach today.

“We did not know. I walked from home to come to school but when I reached here, the classrooms were closed and the teachers were not there. So we decided to play as we wait for them,” a primary six pupil said.

At Namugongo Boys Primary School, upper primary pupils were found teaching their colleagues. However, most decided to spend the morning playing. Eria Isborn, a P5 pupil at the school says he was disappointed to find so much disorder at school.

Mika Echiku, a student at Soroti Secondary School is hopeful that his teachers reconsider their decision because they had already missed a lot during the COVID-19 lockdown and the Science teachers’ strike at the beginning of the term.

In Fort Portal, teachers were seen teaching but school administrators warned that this might not be the case tomorrow. George Mwesige, a teacher at Kyebambe Primary School says that teachers are attending to learners because they could not send them back home.

UNATU branch chairpersons are however urging schools with learners to send them back home. Fred Damba, the Entebbe branch chairperson says teachers should send the children back home because there’s no teaching and learning going on. Damba also appealed to parents not to send their children to school tomorrow.

During a sit-down strike in 2011, teachers put down their tools, effectively shutting down all public schools, while requesting a 100 per cent rise at the time. Other requests included an increase in the science allowance, an increase in capitation awards, and the delivery of the data on time.

To end the strike, the government team led by Amama Mbabazi, the then-prime minister, pledged a progressive increase over three financial years. That year, the government committed to meet half of the requests, but it failed to do so in succeeding years, leading to additional industrial action.

Later, the government pledged a three-phased salary rise for the next three fiscal years. 15 per cent, 20 per cent, and 15 per cent would be the three instalments of the increase. The first phase was paid in the 2012/13 Financial Year and science teachers in post-primary education and training institutions received a 30 per cent increase.

However, because the money was not included in the 2013/14 budget year, the government defaulted on the 20 per cent, which lead to a strike in August 2013. In 2017, the government agreed to increase their pay.

Meanwhile, UNATU which maintains it is still open to talks with the government has also drafted a pay increase plan for all teachers and other employees.

According to their demands, secondary school head teachers should receive 10 Million Shillings, and primary school head teachers 4.5 million. The union 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 Shillings 1.35 million minimum wage for primary school teachers.

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