Work has come to a standstill at all the seven public universities in the country following a strike over ‘little pay’ by the non-teaching staff.
Last Friday, through the Public Universities’’ Non- Teaching staff Executive Forum (PUNTSEF), the various groups resolved that all custodians of halls of residence should not open; Makerere security hand over to police and that registrars should not give out provisional admission forms to students seeking to join university.
Sources at Makerere University, the oldest university in the country, intimated to this reporter that the striking workers led by their chairperson Jackson Betihamah, wanted the strike to coincide with the opening of the first semester, in two weeks’ time.
And, when this reporter visited Makerere University today, all the offices, faculties including the Main and Senate buildings were locked. The Directorate of ICT has as well switched off the internet at the campus. Security at the university is being manned by the police as the university guards are absent.
Uganda has got seven public universities namely: Makerere, Busitema University, Gulu University, Kyambogo University, Mbarara University of Science and Technology, Muni University and Soroti University and all the non-teaching staff at the universities have laid down their tools.
“We, Makerere university non-teaching staff have resolved to lay down our tools with effect from 3rd August until government enhances our salaries. All staff have been advised not to report on duty until further notice. Whoever will be found working will be disciplined,” said Bruce Twesigye, PUNTSEF’s General Secretary.
According to Twesigye, President Museveni discriminated against the non-teaching staff when he promised a pay rise to all academic staff in public universities. Subsequently, in the 2015/16 budget the government allocated sh50b to cater for the increment and a professor will now earn Shs15 million.
“Much as the presidential pay rise pledge emphasized only academic staff, the non-teaching staff looks at it as unfair and instead thinks the president should have pledged to all public universities’ staff without segregating,” said Twesigye.
Twesigye also revealed that the non-teaching staff are demanding 39 billion, and that they have held numerous meetings with all the relevant stakeholders including the Prime Minister, the Minister of Education and with members of the parliamentary committee on public service to no avail, prompting them to lay down their tools.
Last Thursday, during a closed-door meeting chaired by Education minister Jessica Alupo, the workers vowed to go on strike after the Minister said government did not have the money to meet their demands.
“We are aware that they are to lay down their tools but we are not able to enhance their salaries this financial year as requested because government has financial constraints and has to keep other public sectors running,” the minister said. After the meeting, PUNTSEF chairman Mr Betihamah said he was disappointed.
Earlier on in April members of PUNTSEF petitioned the Speaker of Parliament, arguing that the proposed enhancement will be in gross violation of the principle of equal opportunity and an act of open discrimination among the three categories of staff of the public universities in Uganda.
“We request that the proposed gradual enhancement of the salaries should cover all the categories of the workers in all public universities on pro-rata to enable us to avoid the pain staking and laborious industrial and court action by all public universities including the upcoming new ones like Muni and Soroti,” read the petition.
Linda Namaganda a cleaner, said that increasing the salary for one category of staff and leaving out others is “discriminatory, unfair, demotivating, destroys team work and will negatively affect the achievement of the institutions’ goals and objectives.”
Meanwhile, the students at the universities are reportedly in support of the striking staff, with Makerere University Guild President David Bala Bwiruka assuring the striking staff of support.
“Your cause is a struggle against injustice and for us as students’ guild we have sat and agreed that we will support you. When things become abnormal you also become abnormal. As guild presidents in all public universities, we are meeting next week Tuesday where we shall arrange to meet the Minister for Education and the IGP to chat a way forward, ”Bala said.
Bala also warned that with two weeks remaining for the semester to begin, the students might also take action.
The Makerere University Convocation also weighed in on the strike, saying they support efforts aimed at staff welfare.
“Makerere Convocation comprises all staff, students and the alumni therefore we shall support anything to do with the staff welfare .We want to assure you that we will not depart from that mandate and we are supporting you,” Deus Kamunyu Muhwezi, the Publicity Secretary of the Convocation said.
In a related development, a 10-man committee has been set up oversee and manage the strike at Makerere University. It comprises Bruce Twesigye, Yunus Musisi, Denis Mbabazi, Francis Angida, Wilberforce Bubolu, Joseph Musoke, Isaac Egesa, Nelson Akampulira, John Muhumuza and Justine Namuddu.
And for now it is not known how long the strike will last because the government insists there is no money.