Public varsities shut down over Shs29b salary strike

The chairperson of Public Universities Non-Teaching Staff Executive Forum, Mr Jackson Betihamah (right), addresses non-teaching staff during a meeting at Makerere University in August 2016. Photo by Alex Esagala

Kampala- Academic and non-teaching staff in all public universities across the country have gone on strike and announced a unanimous shutdown effective today, accusing government of refusing to pay them their salary enhancement arrears of Shs29 billion.

Under their respective associations, the Public Universities Non-Teaching Staff Executive Forum (PUNTSEF) and Forum for Academic Staff of Public Universities in Uganda (FASPU), the staff say they have had enough of empty government promises.
“I am here to resound an announcement to all workers that starting midnight (last night), no non-teaching staff is supposed to report at place of work, including the security who will be on duty. When it reaches midnight, they must leave their duty stations and go home and this cuts across all public universities,” Mr Jackson Betihamah, the chairperson of PUNTSEF, told Daily Monitor yesterday.

“At our meeting held on December 3, 2018, in Makerere University, members resolved not to open semester two of 2018/2019 academic year if the remaining Shs29.5b is not released as expected,” Mr Betihamah said in a statement to the Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Finance.
“The purpose of this communication is to inform you that failure to receive any communication from your office today over the Shs29.5b and the arrears of Shs4.3b (for salary scale (M10-M22) and salary structure, the staff in public universities will begin their industrial action immediately,” he added.
Dr Grace Lubaale, the chairperson of FASPU, also said they do not need negotiations this time.

“What we only need now is a salary pay structure indicating inclusion of Shs29.5b per scale so that an individual knows the increment and payment of arrears from July to January, not negotiations,” Mr Lubaale said.

Mr Betihamah said Cabinet had agreed to enhance salaries of all staff in government universities to Shs58.5b, but out of this, only Shs29b was paid to them.

He, however, said the non-teaching staff did not receive their arrears of Shs4.3b that was promised in July, 2017.

Both the teaching and non-teaching staff say they will only resume work after receiving their salary enhancement.

Mr Allan Ochieng, the spokesperson of Makerere University Academic Staff Association (Muasa), said they will not abandon their colleagues in the other sections. “We are definitely in this struggle together with all the other public universities. Muasa will not teach during the second semester until the Shs29b is released. Our position is very clear on this and we stand with all the public universities,” Mr Ochieng said.

Mr Albert Miwanda, the chairperson of Makerere University Business School Academic Staff Association reiterated the same position.

“A series of correspondences were made to the Ministry of Public Service, Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Education with none of them yielding the desired results. Mubs being a signatory to FASPU-PUNTSEF and having resolved to lay down tools if government does not honour its commitment, we are, therefore, bound by the resolution and we shall respect the above,” Mr Miwanda’s message sent to Mubs staff whose copy Daily Monitor has seen, reads.

The Busitema University Academic Staff Association chairperson, Mr Geoffrey Ssajja Ssali, announced a similar stand.

“Busitema University being a signatory to FASPU-PUTSEF and having resolved to lay down tools in a general assembly held on December 20, 2018, at Mbale Campus.

Therefore, this is to inform you of these decisions since no official communication has been made to us on the payment of the same,” he communicated to the staff yesterday.

The Kyambogo University vice chancellor, Prof Eli Katunguka, said the decision was unfortunate and urged the staff to report to work.

“As I had advised, before such a decision is taken, full discussions with Council should be exhausted and an agreed position reached. There is commitment from government to pay this money this quarter. I, therefore, want to urge you to report for work on Monday 7 and we continue doing our work,” Prof Katunguka communicated to the staff on Sunday.

However, Mr Betihamah hit back, saying vice chancellors of public universities are bullies.

He said they represent the oppressors to whom they pay loyalty to.
“Vice chancellors in public universities behave like politicians. They want to impress their bosses and show loyalty to the ministries they serve yet they are also the partakers of this salary enhancement we are fighting for. They take the biggest share because they are in superior positions and scales,” Mr Betihamah said.

He challenged both teaching and non-teaching staff of all the public universities to disregard the messages or orders from their vice chancellors.

“I am appealing to all workers not to listen to the vice chancellors because while they have a right to open the universities, we as the workers have the right to withdraw our labour... I am appealing to all public university staff not to report to work because this is a union decision which is derived from the general assembly which passed the resolution,” Mr Betihamah said.

“Whoever will come for duty will be disobeying the resolutions and the decisions of the general assembly and can be equally penalised and the union can decide to isolate you,” he added.

Finance calls for patience

The Finance ministry officials urged the university staff to be patient, saying that progress has been made in implementing the payment agreements. Mr Jim Mugunga, the ministry spokesperson, said over the years, some of the money has been released.

“We do not have a huge budget and if we release Shs58b at once, we would blow the budgets for other sectors. We are working on it and there have been progress made to that effect,” Mr Mugunga said.

Yesterday, government reportedly released money for the salary enhancement but Mr Mugunga could not confirm this. “I heard the money was released, but since I did not attend the event, I cannot verify this. Call the people who attended the event,” he said. However, Mr Betihamah insisted they will only call off the strike after confirming the releases. “What he is talking about is the regular salaries. The money for the enhancement has not been released, so our strike still stands,” he said.

Education response: Both the State Minister for Higher Education, Mr Chrysostom Muyingo, and ministry Permanent Secretary Alex Kakooza could not be reached to make clarification on the released money.
Mr Emmanuel Patrick Muinda, the ministry’s assistant commissioner for information and communication management, said he was still consulting relevant officials and would respond later.