It is now custom; teachers go on strike just before the opening of a new school term. Reason? Government has reneged on its promise to pay them increased salaries.
And today Thursday May 21, in a closed door meeting with the Prime Minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda that lasted two and a half hours, the teachers’ representatives from public schools once again made good their resolve.
Under their umbrella organization, the Uganda National Teachers Union (UNATU), the teachers said they would not teach until their demands for full payment are met by government. “Regrettably, Government has not shown willingness to make any budgetary readjustments to cater for the teachers’ increment in FY 2015/16. Instead, all proposals being offered are deferring the increment to FY 2016/17; a position that is contrary to that of the teachers.
As UNATU, our position remains that an increment should be paid in FY 2015/16. In the spirit of Give and Take, we proposed that an increment of 5% be paid in FY 2015/16 and then 15% be paid in FY 2016/17 if Government is unable to honour the full commitment of 10% salary increment in FY 2015/16.
No consensus was reached over these proposals and we await feedback from government, since it was communicated that Cabinet was to discuss the above proposals further.
In the meantime the Industrial Action continues and we urge all teachers to remain home and await official communication from the General Secretary …”, reads part of a statement issued by the UNATU Secretary General Teopista Birungi.
“We have attended the meeting but haven’t agreed on anything at all, the status quo remains,” said a one Mr.Kisekka, who is reportedly a former senior official of UNATU.
But contrary to what the teachers said, the State Minister for Primary Education Dr.John Chrysostom Muyingo said both parties had agreed that the teachers to go back to class.
“We have partially agreed with them and I hope they can call off the strike,’ Dr Muyingo said, adding: “their salaries will be increased in the next financial year and we have informed them.”
During the meeting, the teachers had reportedly informed the government officials about the availability of 200 billion shillings saved from paying ghost teachers in the previous financial year, saying that they needed only 126 billion of this money.
But the First Deputy Prime Minister Henry Kajura, who chaired the stormy meeting told the teachers that the money was used to offset other arrears, information that contradicted with a report later read by the State Minister for Finance and Economic Planning which indicated that only 26 billion shillings was spent on the said arrears.
This scenario later prompted the teachers to seek for immediate 5% increment as they await the rest of the percentage. Government declined, emphasizing that there was ‘no money’.
This sent the meeting into stalemate, with both parties saying they need to make more consultations.
“We are going to sit with our colleagues and see what we can do after here but our stand still remains, we are not calling off the strike,” said a Ms Nakanjako, a UNATU representative.
But this was not before Minister Muyingo pleaded with the teachers to respect their profession’
“I am a teacher too and what that means is forgetting everything and doing your work; I urge all teachers to consider the innocent children before thinking about money and head back to classes as we settle this matter,” Muyingo implored the seeming defiant teachers.
Teachers in Uganda earn about just over two hundred and fifty thousand shillings, and this has been a point of contention that has always pitted the classroom gurus against bureaucrats in government.
Of late the teachers have been staging ‘wage bargaining strikes’ just before a new school term begins, sending government into panic and, subsequently leading to arbitration meetings, which have proved futile, at least for now.