Unatu in crisis meeting as strike enters fourth week

Pupils from different schools walk home after their teachers didn’t turn up at school in Mityana District on June 15. Photo / File

What you need to know:

  • Mr Filbert Baguma, the Unatu general secretary, said today’s meeting has been triggered by two letters they received from Mr Wilson Muruli Mukasa—the Public Service minister—and Ms Catherine Bitarakwate—the ministry’s Permanent Secretary.

The Uganda National Teachers Union’s (Unatu) top brass will today hold a crisis meeting with its National Executive Council members and branch managers to decide the next course of action of Arts teachers currently on strike over “discriminatory salary enhancement.”

The teachers laid down their tools on June 15, paralysing teaching and learning in most government-funded schools. The vast bulk of these schools remain closed.

Mr Filbert Baguma, the Unatu general secretary, said today’s meeting has been triggered by two letters they received from Mr Wilson Muruli Mukasa—the Public Service minister—and Ms Catherine Bitarakwate—the ministry’s Permanent Secretary.

The letters not only direct Arts teachers to return to class, but also repeat explanations that Scientists were cleared for salary enhancements because they are needed in crucial areas of the economy such as agriculture, industry, and ICT.

The June 30 letters came barely a day after Unatu’s leadership had a meeting with vice present Jessica Alupo over the ongoing strike. The letter also compelled Unatu to cancel a meeting with the Public Service ministry that had been earmarked for Friday (July 1).

“On June 30, we received two letters…[addressed to] me and our national chairman, Mr Zadock Tumuhimbise, giving us the position of government,” Mr Baguma revealed, adding, “As a result, we have invited members of the national executive council for a meeting on Sunday morning and all branch chairpersons in the afternoon to discuss these two letters and come up with a position of the union. The entire leadership has to make a final decision.”

Mr Baguma also said while “the struggle is not easy”, the Arts teachers will “have to continue with it.” The letter he received from Ms Bitarakwate offered assurances that issues raised by Arts teachers through Unatu have “been discussed and consultations escalated to the executive of government.”

Consequently, Ms Bitarakwate asked the teachers to call off the strike and resume work “in the interest of our learners and in view of the ongoing recovery of the lost time.” She also lauded Unatu’s top brass for exhibiting “goodwill and nationalism” during “engagements with [the] government.”

She added: “I hereby convey the commitment of government to implement the approved pay plan concerning all teachers including primary school teachers and employees in public service. This will be undertaken within the medium term.”

The Public Service minister reiterated Ms Bitarakwate’s appeal in his letter to Mr Tumuhimbise. Mr Mukasa wrote thus: “Enhancement of all the teachers and other employees in the public service shall be included in the medium and long run as resources become available through further expansion of the economic sectors like agriculture, services, ICT and industry.”

It is estimated that of the 320,000 public servants, 61,000 are scientists. Mr Mukasa reasons that enhancing salaries of all public servants would require Shs1.5 trillion, which is a Herculean task in light of the current inflationary pressures. Mr Henry Musasizi, the junior Finance minister, revealed this past week that the chances of a supplementary budget being passed to finance the salary enhancement of Arts teachers are remote. He consequently urged them to be patient.

Mr Dennis Mugimba, the Education and Sports ministry spokesperson, said salaries of teaching and academic staff in public institutions have since 2016 been steadily enhanced in a phased manner. He added that this has been “slow but sure.”

Public universities threat

Recently, there have been indications that teaching staff in public universities are contemplating downing their tools. Education and Sports minister Janet Museveni on Friday urged them not to entertain the thought.

“I have been informed of the pending industrial action by university staff due to delayed salary enhancement. I request you to be patient and continue serving since government is working to ensure that your salaries are enhanced,” the First Lady said.

 However, Dr Robert Kakuru—the chairperson of Makerere University Academic Staff Association (Muasa)—told Sunday Monitor that the patience of lecturers in public universities has its limits.

“Members have been patient since 2015 when the President directed that our salaries should be enhanced. We don’t understand what patience means in this case. In the Financial Year 2020/2021, when they enhanced salaries for vice chancellors, deputy vice chancellors, professors and associate professors, the First Lady told us to be patient again. But being patient does not mean that our items have been dropped,” Dr Kakuru said.

“If enhancement is done in a phased manner, we expect to see something in one financial year and something in the subsequent financial years until this matter is concluded. As we talk now, this matter was dropped or shelved. We are now moving into a third financial year when the matter was dropped,” he added.

Dr Kakuru said if the matter is not addressed, they too will lay down their tools of trade.