Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The Uganda National Teachers Union-UNATU has started consulting members and other stakeholders in light of a fresh deal tabled by the government intended to end the ongoing teachers’ strike.
For two weeks, teachers refused to go back to classrooms in favor of raising their pay and achieving overall fairness and harmonization of the salary structures. As a result of the strike, learning has slowed across the country, and many students have stopped attending school completely.
The government declared the strike to be unlawful during the first week and threatened to remove teachers from the civil service payroll. Teachers persisted though, and the government quickly invited them back to the negotiating table.
As part of the negotiation, the Ministry of Public Service has penned more promises to the teachers delivered in two separate letters.
In the first letter dated June 30 addressed to the Secretary-General of UNATU, the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Public Service, Catherine Bitarakwate Musingwiire, noted that the government has taken serious consideration of the concerns presented and thus coming up with a solution.
“The matter has been discussed and consultations escalated to the Executive of Government. In this regard, I hereby convey the commitment of the government to implement the approved pay plan concerning all teachers including primary school teachers and employees in the entire Public Service. This will be undertaken within the medium term,” the letter reads in part.
On the same day, the Minister of Public Service Wilson Muruli Mukasa also penned a lengthy letter to the UNATU national chairperson. In the letter, the minister justified the need for the enhancement of salaries for natural scientists.
“The Government intends to enhance the pay of all its employees in the medium and long run as the resources become available through the further expansion of the economic sectors that have already recovered (agriculture, industry, services, ICT). It is these sectors, as they expand, that will give us the money (in the form of taxes) that will enable us to cover more priorities including paying all the public servants better,” Muruli Mukasa noted.
Muruli Mukasa, whose message was intended to persuade teachers to return to the classroom, could not help but retaliate against striking teachers by declaring that it amounts to sabotage for anyone to vehemently refuse to resume work unless everybody is paid well now or everybody is democratically underpaid.
With the two letters being received by UNATU, leaders at the teachers’ house have canceled intentions to attend a scheduled meeting with the Ministry of Public Service. “They have communicated their positions and leaders here see no reason to go to the meeting anymore,” a source from UNATU noted.
Zadock Tuhimbisibwe, the UNATU national chairperson says that the submissions from the ministry of public service needed to be studied before a final decision or response is made.
According to Tuhimbisibwe, the union’s top leadership has sent out a letter to their branch members to seek their opinion on the deal offered.
The union is also conducting stakeholder engagements in Kampala. For instance on Friday, the national chairperson and two workers’ MPs discussed the same issue in a closed-door meeting.
Tuhimbisibwe says the ongoing consultations at all levels are also geared towards digesting the technical language entailed in the letters from the Ministry and seeking a general concuss on the next step to be taken. He says that they intend to write a response to the two letters and seek clarification on what the government means to implement the approved payment plan within the medium term.
With clarification from the government, the union’s top organ- the national executive council, and branch leaders will meet on Sunday. Tuhimbisibwe adds that the union will declare whether to continue with the industrial action or have teachers return to the classroom.
Teopista Birungi Mayanja, the founder of UNATU, advised that teachers should insist that government either introduce a supplementary budget to raise pay for what has been described as art teachers or distribute the available wage among all teachers for equity purposes as they prepare the promised pay raise.
The current impasse resulted from the government’s decision to increase the pay for science teachers nearly by 300 percent in disregard of their colleagues in 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.
UNATU has proposed that the government should pay shillings 4.8 million to graduate science teachers and shillings 4.5 million to those teaching arts and humanities. They are also advocating for a Shillings 1.35 million minimum wage for primary school teachers.