Teachers under Uganda National Teachers’ Union-UNATU have agreed to call off the teachers’ strike.
The decision was taken on Monday after a meeting between UNATU leaders and President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni at Kololo Ceremonial Grounds. During the meeting, UNATU presented their case but the President told the teachers that the government has already provided a position and it will not reverse it.
“We have provided a position as government and pledged to competitively remunerate workers guided by a science-led strategy. This does not mean we have forgotten others, but we are choosing to prioritize the few and others can come later. We must finish one problem at a time,” the President reportedly told teachers’ representatives.
President Museveni who was accompanied by Education Minister Janet Museveni said that the government acknowledges the salary issues raised by the teachers and other workers; the army, and Police officers, who are equally important to the growth and development of this country.
“This does not mean we have forgotten others, but we are choosing to prioritize the few and others can come later. We must finish one problem at a time…We are aware of the issues and we are committed to handling them. Therefore, my advice is to go back and teach. Please don’t divert us from our journey (of attracting and retaining scientists by paying them comparatively and competitively. Don’t interfere with government strategy.” he added.
On June 15, teachers laid down tools and refused to return to the classroom in a quest for salary enhancement, with equity and harmonization across the board. The strike, which is currently in the third week, has since stalled learning across the country as learners are idle while many have since given up on going to school altogether.
The strike resulted from the government’s decision to increase the pay for science teachers nearly by 300 per cent 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 4 million Shilling and 3 million Shillings up from 1.1 million Shillings and 796,000 Shillings respectively.
During negotiations, teachers proposed that the government should either provide an additional budget to increase the salary of art teachers or, for the sake of justice, split the available wage bill of 95 billion shillings among all teachers. The wage bill was set aside to enhance the salaries of science teachers only and if equally shared among the 169,000 teachers on the payroll, each would get a pay raise of 46,800 shillings.
However, President Museveni slammed the idea of sharing the available funds saying that the argument doesn’t hold any sense. “The Arts teachers insist that we should use the available resources to improve salaries across the board, whilst this is possible, it does not solve the salary issue. It is okumemerera (sprinkling), where everyone will get a little and then next year everyone strikes,”
After the meeting with the President, teachers failed to answer the President but opted to hold another internal meeting to discuss how the situation may be handled. The meeting which was held at Teachers’ House lasted for over three and a half hours with teachers split into two groups; one side wanted the strike called off, while the other wanted it to stay.
Filbert Baguma, UNATU Secretary-General, notes that they had two options; either walk away from the negotiating table and continue with their strike or suspend it as the negotiation with the government continues. He adds that after weighing the interest on the table, UNATU leaders later agreed to suspend the strike.
With the strike suspended, teachers are expected to return to classes effective Tuesday. Baguma, however, added that the ongoing engagement with the government will determine how long the suspension will take and when the strike will be indefinitely called off.
Speaking to our reporter a section of UNATU branch leaders noted that they will petition Parliament over the matter on Wednesday.
This is not the first time UNATU has launched a strike and suspended it without yielding results. in 2019, the union had mobilized teachers to withdraw labour over salary enhancements but the President quickly summoned the leaders and convinced them to suspend it. Baguma refuted the claims noting that the call has been made in good faith and looking at the outcomes.
As negotiation between the two parties continues, a lawyer has sued the government for selectively increasing the salary of teachers saying this action violates the right of non-discrimination in the workplace of arts teachers as stated in the Constitution.
Usher Wilson Owere, National Organization of Trade Unions chairman general, also observes that although teachers have agreed to return to classrooms, there is a need to streamline the civil service structures and let institutions work.
Owere noted that it seems the President has usurped all powers of public service technocrats deciding whose salary should be increased.