On Monday, both teaching and non-teaching staff in government universities announced a strike and vowed to stay away from work when Semester Two, which marks end of the academic year, opens next month. They are demanding Shs29 billion arrears of their salary enhancement which President Museveni and government committed to pay after a similar strike in 2015.
This outstanding balance was to be paid in 2017/18 financial year, which elapsed in June.
Representatives of staff of public universities said on Monday they had not received their money despite the affirmation by ministries of Finance and Public Service to pay. The Minister of State for Higher Education, Mr Chrysostom Muyingo, expressed shock that that university staff took the decision to strike despite ongoing negotiations with the government.
Government should stop dilly-dallying. Public universities are the biggest providers of tertiary education in the country and they shape the national direction in education. If they strike, it can paralyse tertiary education services in the country.
The government should listen to their grievances and expedite their payment. Their arrears are not in dispute. In 2015, the President committed to pay. Government cannot continue hiding behind negotiations to renege on its commitment and keep the university staff waiting or guessing indefinitely. There must be an end to negotiations and the beginning of payment.
The vulnerability of Uganda’s public universities to strikes has become chronic and the government must find a permanent cure to this pandemic. Strikes hurt the image of the country and undermine the reputation of the universities locally and internationally.
Besides, there is a financial implication. Students lose learning hours during strikes which are never adequately compensated after. The striking staff receive full pay for even the strike days when they did not work. So government pays for work not done. This wastage of taxpayers’ money should be stopped. Parents too are suffering huge financial losses. Private students pay tuition for fulltime learning throughout the semester. However, they lose learning hours during the strike period and their tuition for the days they missed is never refunded. Where is the accountability?
Government must find a way of resolving salary issues in public universities in time to avert preventable and wasteful strikes. The Shs29b that is driving the university staff strike next month is not an amount government would find hard to get, yet it has often lavished billions of shillings on issues of peripheral or no national importance. It cannot fail to raise this sum to avert the strike that will disrupt academic work at public universities and affect lives and careers of thousands of students.