The ongoing strike being carried out by non-teaching staff at all the seven public universities is an unwelcome distraction.
Early this week the support staff under their umbrella organization, the Public Universities Non-Teaching Staff, PUNTSEF, vowed not to carry out any work at their designated stations until their salary increment grievances are sorted out.
The groups cite an earlier increment in the salaries of the teaching staff announced in the current budget, and aver that they have been discriminated against.
The support staff strike is poignant for a number of issues, not least because these people offer services that are of critical importance to the students. These are the people who clean, man the library and guard the varsity premises, among other tasks.
It is common knowledge that the government has prioritized infrastructure development ahead of almost all other areas of service delivery. This in itself is not bad. However, there is a ‘tired’ tendency by those in charge of grading the salaries of public officials/workers; they create huge salary disparities that demoralize even the personnel that would have otherwise wanted to hang in there till the appropriate time comes when government can satisfactorily pay its workers. And therein lies the problem, one that needs a quick fix if we are to avoid intermittent strikes by workers in the public sector.
For starters, we could borrow a leaf from our neighbor to the east, Kenya, which established the Salaries and Remuneration Board, the SRB, to try and harmonise the salaries of public officers in the country.
The advantage of having bodies such as the SRB is that they are established through an Act of Parliament, meaning their activities are subject to parliamentary scrutiny and approval, thereby minimizing inequitable handling of public workers’ affairs including remuneration.