Learners stranded as teachers strike

Pupils play outside the compound of Lugazi East Primary School on June 15, 2022. Many Arts teachers across the country joined a strike against government’s discriminatory enhancement of salaries for their Science counterparts. PHOTO/JESSICA SABANO

What you need to know:

  • Many Arts teachers across the country have backed a directive by their Union to lay down tools until government considers their salary enhancement demands. This publication yesterday did a mini survey on the effect of the ongoing strike.

Learners in Primary and Secondary schools across the country were on Wednesday left stranded after their Arts teachers embarked on a nationwide strike over government’s proposed discriminatory salary enhancement. 
Government, however, has asked them to return to class immediately.
 A day before the strike, the Uganda National Teachers’ Union (Unatu) made it clear that effective Wednesday teachers should not go back to classrooms unless the government honours its commitment to increase their salary.

 In the statement, Unatu said the leadership of the teachers Union countrywide had unanimously ratified the resolution of the standing committee that sat on May 23 to enter into an industrial action effective June 15, if there is no satisfactory feedback on the issues pertaining to teachers’ salary increment across the board for the Financial Year 2022/2023. 
Government has increased salaries for Science teachers in its bid to promote sciences. The Permanent Secretary of the Public Service ministry, Ms Catherine Bitarakwate, said Shs495 billion had been earmarked in the Financial Year 2022/2023 National Budget to enhance salaries for scientists.
A mini-survey conducted by this publication countrywide indicated that in upcountry schools, learners opted to return home since there were no teachers to attend to them. 

In Yumbe District, for instance, the head teacher of Barakala Seed Secondary School, Mr Hamid Amin, said his Arts teachers joined the industrial action.
 “Majority of the teachers who have signed in the attendance book are Science teachers and only two arts teachers reported today. I didn’t know whether the Arts teachers who signed entered for lessons, but generally the activities in the school remain paralysed,” he said. 
In Moyo District, Ms Rose Allia, the head teacher of Toloro Primary School in Moyo Sub-county, described the situation as alarming as only five teachers out of 10 reported to work. 

Pupils play outside the school premises at Kyewanula Primary School in Lyantonde Rural Sub-county. PHOTO/KENNEDY KAKEMBO

 “We had to send pupils home. We are helping the Primary Seven class and the teachers have agreed to sacrifice up to midday to teach. We are giving them (candidates) books to read,” Ms Allia said.
 Mr Goffin Gore, the Moyo Resident District Commissioner, urged the aggrieved teachers to engage with the government through dialogue rather than sacrificing children’s future.

 Ms Immaculate Atimango, the chairperson of Unatu Zombo branch, said: “The purpose of the strike is specifically due to the discriminatory salary enhancement for the teachers. A teacher is a teacher regardless of the subjects they teach. They are trained, registered and qualified to get the benefits their counterparts are getting. We shall not return to work unless we get positive feedback from the government.” 

The teachers’ industrial action has seen head teachers single-handedly man schools in Buikwe, Buyende and Kamuli Districts as teachers left to tend to their gardens, while some parents also kept their children off school premises to help in the gardens.
“Dad told us to remain home and help in the garden because the teachers are going to be on strike today,” Timothy Isubikalu, a Primary Six pupil at Kinaitakali Primary School in Buyende District, said on Wednesday.
The Buyende District Education Officer, Mr Dison Bwire, said teachers were willing to be in class, but the parents kept them off after learning of their impending industrial action, but hastened to add that schools were operating normally.

Government position
Addressing a press conference at Uganda Media Centre yesterday, Public Service Minister Wilson Muruli Mukasa said the government was aware of the previous discussions with the leadership of the teachers Union and is committed to the plan of enhancing the pay of workers in a phased manner.
 “We call upon Unatu to be patient as the government continues the implementation of the pay enhancement plan, subject to availability of resources. We, therefore, call upon all teachers to return to class and teach,” he said.
 “As a matter of fact, enhancement of pay of science teachers, scientists and health workers has already commenced.  Selective nature of enhancement is not a popular thing, but that is what we can do as of now. We have no resources to cater for all workers at ago,” he added.

The minister also noted that Education and Sports Minister Janet Museveni had called for a meeting with the teachers’ Union leadership on June 17 at which a way forward will be agreed upon.
 He said the education sector has picked up momentum from the two-year lockdown due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, thus giving them hope and preparing them for the future.

Pupils from different schools walk home after their teachers didn’t turn up at school in Mityana District on June 15, 2022. PHOTO/JESSCA NABUKENYA

Unlike upcountry, in Kampala, however, many teachers reported for work.  The situation at St Peters S.S Nsambya was business as usual and this was the same for Old Kampala S.S and Gayaza High School.
When asked about the position of the school in the ongoing industrial action, the head teacher of Jinja College, Mr Mathias Isabirye, said: “Yes and no. Yes my teachers belong to Unatu, so we need the money and no, we are keeping the students busy because if we abandon them, who will take care of them? So as much as we support the strike, all my teachers who have responsibilities for the day are present.” 

“Teachers are not happy with the pay, but we are accountable to very many people. As much as we get support from the government, we also get money from parents who pay so that we educate their boys, so we can’t let them down,”  Mr Constantine  Mpuga, the head teacher of Namilyango College, said.
The General Secretary of Unatu, Mr Filbert Baguma, said the strike is ongoing until a definitive solution is provided by the government.
“We don’t have a response from the government yet but a meeting has been organised for Friday May 17. For now, we cannot predict what is going to happen on Friday, so the industrial action will go on,” he said.
“All teachers should be considered in terms of salary enhancement and are all faced with the current economic hardships, so why only increase salary for science teachers?” Mr Baguma questioned.
In Lugazi Municipality, Buikwe District, teachers didn’t show up for duty.

Pupils were found playing in many schools. Some of the schools include St Kizito Primary school, Mawotto Model Primary School, and Lugazi East Primary School.
 At Lugazi West Primary School, the deputy head teacher, Ms Betty Naigaga, said her teachers failed to turn up. 
The head of Unatu in Lugazi Municipality, Mr Hillary Bwiire, said many of the teachers decided to strike.
Elsewhere in Mpigi, pupils were turned away at schools like St Kizito Primary, Mpigi Umea Primary School, St Michael Buume Primary School, and St Bruno Primary School after teachers failed to show up.  Mr Deogratius Ssekyole, the district education officer, admitted that the strike had paralysed normal operations of public primary schools in the area.
In Mityana District, most schools remained closed the whole day.

Mr Francis Bonna, the chairperson of Unatu in Mityana, advised parents to keep the learners at home until the day they will call off the strike.
At both Kyabuuza Primary School in Lyantonde Town Council and Kyewanula Primary School in Lyantonde Rural Sub-county, teachers were present, but did not conduct any lessons. 
Ms Zulaika Nazziwa Birungi, the acting district inspector of schools, who visited both schools, advised the management to send the pupils back home to avoid indiscipline due to redundancy at school.    

Kalangala Island
In Kalangala, teachers did not show up for work at Kibanga Primary School.
 Ms Grace Nalubega, the Entebbe Municipality education officer, said: “We are monitoring the situation and apparently we haven’t got any school head teacher or parent complaining about classroom teachers not being at school.”
 However, in Tororo District, teachers joined the industrial action. Mr Abdu Gamoiza, the head teacher of Aturukuku Primary School, said he was forced to dismiss learners after none of the teachers turned up for duty.

A pupil in an empty classroom at Abele primary school in Koboko District. Photo/ Rashul Adidi 

The chairperson of Tororo, Mr John Okeya, condemned the action saying sending away children increases insecurity among the learners.
 In Kabale District, the head teacher of Rukore High School, Mr Joseph Akankwasa, said: “Students reported as usual for studies, but teachers on government payroll teaching Art subjects did not turn up.”  The Unatu chairperson in Rukungiri District, Ms Lovence Biriho Komujuni, said in 2019, they agreed with the government to raise their salaries by 50 percent.
“There are eight government teachers, but all of them did not come to school. I am here alone,” he said. 

Government invites teachers for talks 
     The government on Tuesday invited disgruntled teachers for talks and rebuked the planned strike over “discriminatory salary enhancement”. 
  Speaking on the eve of a nation-wide teachers’ strike, the State Minister in charge of Primary Education, Dr Joyce Kaducu, however, did not give any details of the planned dialogue with Uganda National Teachers Union (Unatu).
    “What we want from teachers is dialogue,” Dr Kaducu said before she warned striking teachers against frustrating the implementation of revised curricula.
  “Our doors are open…We love the teachers and we don’t want to see them go into industrial action. Going into industrial action will mean setting back the entire education system in terms of curricula implementation. We are appealing to the teachers not to go into industrial action. Present your case to us and we get a way forward,” Dr Kaducu added.

Compiled by Bill Oketch, Jane Nafula, Promise, Precious Delilah, Felix Warom Okello, Joseph Omollo, Fred Wambede, Alex Ashaba, Robert Elema, Scovin Iceta, Peace Giramia, Al-Mahdi Ssenkabirwa, Eve Muganga, Jessica Nabukenya,Kennedy Kakembo, Brian A Kesiime, Sylvester Ssemugenyi, Emmanuel Arineitwe,Robert Muhereza, Milton Bandiho, Jessica Sabano,Phillip Wafula, Dennis Edema,David Awori & Ronald Kabanza.