How minister foiled local govt staff strike

The Minister of Public Service, Mr Muruli Mukasa, addresses Parliament yesterday. PHOTO / DAVID LUBOWA

What you need to know:

  • The government’s fireman to fight strikes, or nip planned ones in the bud, Mr Muruli in a crisis meeting with executives of Uganda Local Government Workers Union (ULGWU) in Kampala, promised sweeteners, but also appealed to commonsense.

A nationwide industrial action that some 70,000 local government workers planned to start yesterday collapsed, to the relief of seekers of their services, in the last hours following a charm offensive by Mr Muruli Mukasa, the minister of Public Service.

The government’s fireman to fight strikes, or nip planned ones in the bud, Mr Muruli in a crisis meeting with executives of Uganda Local Government Workers Union (ULGWU) in Kampala, promised sweeteners, but also appealed to commonsense.

In accounts of the deliberations offered by ULGWU General Secretary Hassan Lwabayi, the minister said the government was unable to introduce a supplementary budget at the start of the 2022/2023 fiscal year, which became effective on July, but will make provision in the next budget to better remunerate the disgruntled employees.

Following the promise, which Mr Lwabayi demanded and expects to receive in writing today, the leaders turned their eyes on September 15, the date when the Ministry of Finance is expected to issue the budget call circular.

The circular is a formal document that Finance ministry sends out to government ministries, departments and agencies, setting expenditure ceiling for each for the next financial year alongside specifications about type and format in which to submit prescribed information.

ULGWU yesterday was hopeful a provision will be made in this early 2023/2024 budget cycle to meet the demand by their workers, echoed by other civil servants, for higher pay.

“… If our salary is not included, there will be a problem. We shall go on industrial action,” said Mr Lwabayi who said the government had reneged on the Collective Power Agreement it signed on June 22, 2018.

In the document, the government committed to raise remunerations of all its employees, only to turn around and allocate substantial pay raises in the new financial year for scientists following strikes first by doctors and later science teachers.

The budgetary provision, which Uganda National Teachers’ Union (Unatu) christened “discriminatory”, prompted its leadership to mobilise primary school teachers and secondary school Arts teachers for an industrial action which,after three weeks, ended early this week with the striking teachers leaving the negotiation table with President Museveni empty-handed.

At the deal-breaker meeting, the President, in words echoed by Public Service minister Muruli Mukasa yesterday, said the government is committed to improve pay for all public officials but it decided to start with scientists, who are most critical for the country’s desired rapid socio-economic transformation, due to limited resources.

In the Kampala meeting, the minister pleaded with ULGWU leaders to stay their planned strike which he argued would disrupt implementation of the government’s commitment to pay scientists higher salary from this month.

The Union wants entry-level employees and support staff, including office attendants and drivers, majority currently least paid civil servants earning less than Shs300,000 a month, to be paid Shs1.7m.

Among its demand is that the pay for a chief administrative officer, who heads the civil service in a district, increased multiple-fold from the current Shs2.3m to Shs15m, bringing them to earn  nearly as permanent secretaries, who superintend civil servants in a ministry. 

ULGWU issued an industrial action notice to the government on April 7,  in fulfilment of 90-day window under labour laws, to pay its members higher salaries or they would lay down tools starting today.

It is this threat, whose deadline expiration meant another strike was getting underway days after the government talked out teachers, that formed the basis of yesterday’s emergency meeting.

Mr Abdul Byakatonda, a member of Parliament representing workers, and the Chairman General of National Organisation of Trade Unions, Mr Wilson Usher Owere, alongside ULGWU representatives from Luweero, Mubende, Nakasongola, Mbale, Kakumiro Sheema attended the 10am make-or-break meeting.

ULGWU’s Lwabayi said Minister Muruli Mukasa convinced them to abandon the industrial action plan because their grievances would be addressed in the 2023/2024 financial year budget.

According to him, the minister explained that since local governments are at the frontline and directly leading implementation of government programmes, service delivery to majority Ugandans and implementation of Parish Development Model (PMD), the government’s new medicine to cure poverty, would be disrupted.

“The minister said government committed itself to give priority to enhancing salary for local government staff and that the process would start in September, this year, which is the beginning of the 2023/2024 budgeting process,” Mr Lwabayi said.

He added: “The minister said since this year’s budget had already been passed and that government cannot pass a supplementary budget since the money involved [for enhancement of salaries of discontented public servants] is big, our salary enhancement would be considered in the next budget.”

Members of ULGWU who were in the meeting, however, tasked the minister to put the meeting recommendations into writing as proof of government commitment and good will. The executives of the 70,000-strong Union, according to Lwabayi, intend to use the written undertakings to persuade members to stay the strike.

In an earlier interview, Notu’s Owere said that since the government had given a commitment, it was better for local government workers to delay the strike until such a time when the budget cycle starts.

“We have just concluded the meeting with the minister of Public Service and some agreements have been reached. They will be communicated through [Mr Lwabayi],” he said.

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