Teachers’ strike: Dialogue, not intimidation, is the way to go

What you need to know:

The issue: Teachers’ strike.

Our view: The way out in our candid observation, is to stop any forms of arrogance and accept to renegotiate the 2018 agreement. Intimidating teachers will only make matters worse. Let us continue with dialogue.

Yesterday morning, another round of negotiations between government and leaders of the Uganda National Teachers’ Union (Unatu) was expected.

It is in the same week that Vice President Jessica Alupo held a meeting with the same striking teachers, although nothing fruitful was realised with Unatu insisting they want a pay rise assurance.

This is in contrast to the tactic government had adopted last week. On June 22, Ms Catherine Bitarakwate, the Public Service permanent secretary (PS), wrote to the teachers’ union and declared their strike illegal. She also threatened to delete defiant teachers from the payroll. She instructed that the teachers who are not willing to work under the current terms are free to quit or seek legal redress.

The PS’ letter was ill-advised. It is not clear whether she even looked at the provisions of Section 76(2) of the Employment Act, 2006, which provides that participation of an employee in an industrial action is lawful.

Whether she was instructed or not, intimidating striking public servants was unnecessary. In difficult situations like this, we propose that government consults experts in conflict resolution.

Sometimes problems begin the moment we begin to block channels of communication and hesitate to listen to wise counsel. In times of high tension, disagreements, and complex misunderstandings, dealing with emerging issues, information flow is king while remaining alert and calm is critical.

How government came to a prejudiced salary increment cannot be explained. But the reality is clear, Arts are not useless as some people think. Arts are equally important and the teachers deserve better pay just like their Science colleagues. They are not immune to inflation, they go to the same market and they all teach in government schools.

Some schools have remained closed since June 15. Most of the schools are open but no learning is taking place there. Millions of learners in public schools are stuck at home as teachers’ strike continues to bite. When talks get heated, it is tempting to pretend that coercion can solve the problem. It makes matters worse.

Our view is that government and all its agents, should stop any form of intimidation and continue talks with teachers. The way out in our candid observation is to stop any forms of arrogance and accept to renegotiate the 2018 agreement. Intimidating teachers will only make matters worse. Let us continue with dialogue.

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