Striking teachers react as government threatens to sack them

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:

  • The National Organisation of Trade Unions (Notu) yesterday weighed in favour of the striking teachers, dismissing PS Bitarakwate’s letter as “uncalled for” since President Museveni had already directed the line ministries to engage Unatu and come up with an enhancement plan.

The government has ordered Arts teachers striking over pay back to class latest tomorrow, or risk being sacked for absconding from duty and engaging in an “illegal” industrial action.

In a swift rejoinder, the leadership and members of Uganda National Teachers’ Union (Unatu) dismissed the threat, and asked the government to address the pay disparity between Science and Arts teachers and stop bullying teachers exercising their labour rights.

“Any government-employed teacher who does not comply [with] this call will be regarded as having abandoned duty and resigned from public service in accordance with Section A-n (17) of the Uganda Public Service Standing Orders, 2021,” Ministry of Public Service Permanent Secretary Catherine Bitarakwate noted in a terse letter to Mr Filbert Baguma, the Unatu general secretary.

Leaving public office is, however, provided for under Section A-o of the cited law and the grounds include dismissal for misconduct and resignation for, among others, reasons of marriage and or transfer to another civil service. 

Unatu was initially the umbrella national organisation for all teachers in the country before science teachers, in a sign of internal schism and weakening of the teaching fraternity, broke ranks to found the Uganda Professional Science Teachers’ Union under which the government has offered them significant pay rise.

Mr Baguma told this newspaper yesterday that teachers would continue with the strike action, despite the government directing them to resume tomorrow and threatening to replace them. 

In her June 22 letter, PS Bitarakwate noted that the aggrieved teachers should either return to class, resign or seek legal redress.

“Whereas teachers, like all other employees of government, have rights and freedoms enjoyed under the Constitution and other relevant laws, including the right to withdraw labour, the current industrial action by the members of Unatu is illegal …,” she wrote, adding, “…we have noted that you and your membership have decided to close the schools. We wish to advise you that no teacher, whether on strike or not, has the legal right or justification to close a public school without the concurrence of the government of Uganda.”

A number of public schools have momentarily closed after the strike by Arts teachers, the majority teaching workforce in Uganda, abandoned teaching for now a week.

PS Bitarakwate put chief administrative officers and town clerks, who oversee civil servants in district, cities and municipalities, on notice to compile the particulars of no-show teachers and submit them to the Public Service ministry headquarters in Kampala by end of this month to facilitate their “removal from the payroll”.

Unatu’s Baguma in a rejoinder characterised the letter as “full of intimidation and does not address the concerns of the teachers and, therefore, we continue with our industrial action”.

“There is no way you can make people lose jobs over an illegality. She {Ms Bitarakwate) says the strike is illegal, but she needs to know that we have all the documentations to [support the industrial action],” he said.

The teachers went on strike after the government increased the salary of science teachers, in some cases three-fold higher than their Arts counter-parts, after President Museveni, who studied humanities at Dar es Salam University in Tanzania, argued that science teacher contribute more to the socio-economic transformation of Uganda.

In the past, he has praised scientists for beating back Covid-19, which comparably killed far fewer Ugandans than fatalities in even developed countries, sorting the water weeks on River Nile that threatened to constrict Nalubaale dam as well as defeat of the locust invasion --- that all happened in the same year.

At a meeting this week with representatives of Unatu, the President reiterated the government’s willingness to increase salary for all public servants, but said they have started with science teachers in next fiscal year budget due to limited resources.

Bureaucrats, including Mr Museveni, have never explained the government’s reluctance to accept expert proposal and constitutional provision for establishment of a Salary Review Commission to regularise pay for all public servants.

In yesterday’s response, Unatu general secretary Baguma said it was unacceptable for the government to ignore its commitments to raise teachers’ salaries under the 2019 Collective Bargaining Agreement, and move on to pay the 13,000 science teachers, who lacked a separate such deal, much higher than Arts counterparts with similar or higher qualifications and experiences.

According to the National Teacher Policy of 2019, there are 347,219 teachers employed in public and private schools. Among these are 184,275 at primary schools, 67,168 for secondary schools, 13,870 at tertiary institutions, 750 at Primary Teachers’ Colleges (PTCs) and 227 at National Teachers’ Colleges (NTCs).

Whereas Mr Baguma urged Unatu members to stay calm and put, the association’s chairperson, Mr Zadock Tumuhimbise, said their legal teams are preparing a response to the PS’s “intimidating” letter. 

Mr Martin Obore, the chairperson of Secondary School Teachers’ Association, asked the government to contain the mounting tension among Arts teachers.

The National Organisation of Trade Unions (Notu) yesterday weighed in favour of the striking teachers, dismissing PS Bitarakwate’s letter as “uncalled for” since President Museveni had already directed the line ministries to engage Unatu and come up with an enhancement plan.

“It is not fair for the permanent secretary to issue threats before implementing what the president told them during the Entebbe meeting,” Notu chairman general Usher Owere said in reference to the June 18 meeting.

Separately, Ms Margaret Rwabushaija, who represents workers in the 11th Parliament, urged the government to address the long-standing grievances of teachers of humanities.

Mr Fagil Mandy, a former commissioner for secondary education, yesterday said Arts teachers should resume work as negotiation with the government continues.

Teachers’ salaries

The government plunged the Education sector into chaos after announcing in the next financial year budget that that the salary for a degree-holder science teacher will increase to Shs4 million, up from Shs1.2 million, while a diploma-holder science teacher will earn Shs3m, slightly triple the current pay.

In contrast, the monthly remuneration of a graduate Arts teacher will stagnate at Shs 1,080,000 while diploma-holder counterparts teaching at secondary schools will get Shs795,000.

Primary school Sciences and Arts teachers both earn a monthly salary of Shs 560,000 before tax

Teachers react to govt directive

Bosco Bwambale, a teacher at Mahango PS in Kasese District

While we now know what the government position is, let me wait for our boss to tell us the next course of action.

Haziidah Nanseera, the head teacher of Bushenyi Town School.

We are only two here, me and my deputy. We have allowed other teachers to join the industrial action. This will affect the performance of pupils and the school in general at the end of the year.

Richard Araku, a parent of Moyo Boys Primary School

I am disappointed in the government for failing to listen to the cry of the teachers over salary increment.

Martin Baryomunsi, History teacher at Bishop Ruhindi HS, Kebisoni

I am not going back to school. How can I teach when my children at home are not studying. The government should come on board and sit with us instead of intimidating us. We shall go and do other activities.

Jude Tadeus Imailuk, a Geography teacher at Asinge PS in Kwapa Town Council

The directive is unfortunate because the government is using it to instil fear in teachers.

Patrick Omitta, deputy head teacher, St Kizito PS

The income disparity is biased. We have the same workload. These strikes will destroy our children who wasted two years at home.

Ismael Tumuramye, Unatu chairperson Rwampara District  

For us we are ready for any eventuality. Let governmet have a supplementary budget and enhance our salaries, period

Alex Wasike, Swahili teacher.  

We are in the same schools teaching similar subjects. Paying Science teachers higher salaries is segregation and unfairness

Wilfred Alinaitwe, a teacher at Butunduzi PS in Kyenjojo District

I have been in class teaching.  I am happy that government has directed striking teachers to return to class.

Musa Bankunda, Lwengo chairperson for Unatu

The strike is still on until our bosses call it off

Mathew Male, the chairman of Unatu in Ssembabule

What our colleagues who are teaching are doing is not right. The PTA funds can be scrapped by government. 

Stella Natukunda, teacher at Mbuya PS

Government refused to negotiate with teachers. We go to the same market with Science teachers, teach in the same schools. All teachers matter!

Andrew Lukyamuzi, a teacher at St Charles Lwanga PS, Kyotera 

Withdrawing labour is within the law. So, threats from our employer will not work.

Joseph Lule, teacher at Mityana SS

Teachers are right with their demands. The imbalance is too high. Previously Science teachers were earning Shs80,000 more than others.

Alfred Mugume of Nyakitokoli Primary School in Kabarole 

I hope the directive is coming with money because that is what we have been requesting from government.

Okumu Kezironi, Tororo chairperson Unatu

The directive is diversionary. It would only work if salaries are enhanced. However, we are waiting for an official communication from the general secretary of the union.

Gerald Sozi, deputy head teacher of Nyakagyeme SS in Rukungiri   

Teachers on government payroll no longer come to school and I don’t think they will report back very soon.

Phiona Muduwa, Business woman, Kayunga

The teachers should not go back to class because they are underpaid. Going back without government meeting their demands is unfair.

Promise Natukunda, English teacher at St Paul’s SS in Buyanja Sub-county.  

I can’t teach with other teachers who are earning millions of money yet we teach the same classes.

Daniel Mugerwa, a Mathematics teacher at St Kizito P/S, Mpigi.

You can force a cow to go to the well, but you cannot force it to drink water. We may go back to class but we may not deliver to our expectations.

Mathias Mukasa, Southern Regional chairperson of Unatu.

Our stand is with what Unatu at the headquarters has resolved, we shall not go to classes until government gives us what we want.

Geoffrey Beinomugisha, Kabale Municipal chairperson of Unatu

It is regrettable for the government to begin intimidating the striking teachers with dismissal yet there was an ongoing dialogue

Diana Candiru, an Arts teacher at Apo Seed SS, Yumbe 

The government directive is a way of intimidating the teachers. We will carry on with our industrial action until the government addresses the salary disparities.

Gabriel Ahimbisibwe, Mbarara District Education Officer.

We are waiting for instructions from the Minister of Education or the permanent secretary on how to handle the situation

Drake Arinanye, a language teacher.

It does not make sense to simply give orders, instead the grievances of the teachers should be given attention and solved to give the teachers motivation to teach well.

Earnest Ndinawe, Deputy Head Teacher of Rutya SS in Isingiro District.

If the teachers are forced to go to class, what will happen to the students? Teachers will be demoralised. I think the problem is the people who make such decisions.

Florence Namuwonge, a teacher at St Charles Lwanga PS, Kyotera

We have been patient for five years ever since we signed the Collective Bargaining Agreement and what we need now is money, not threats.

Andrew Maira, Kayunga District Unatu secretary.

We shall not go back to class unless our demands are met. We are protected by law and no intimidation will force us back to class.

Ruth Asingwire, a teacher at Bugayi Foundation Primary  School, Mpigi

We need fairness. If our colleagues were given an increment, we also need our due share because we deserve it.

Allen Mbabazi, a teacher at Simba Primary School, Kyotera District.

Government must know that threats don’t work. The cost of living has become unbearable and we need a salary increment like our colleagues teaching sciences.