Development

MUASA boss threatens strike over staff salaries as universities reopen

Following the recent directive by President Museveni lifting lockdown on schools, Makerere University Vice Chancellor, Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe instructed staff to report back to their respective duty stations with immediate effect, as the University plans to reopen on 3rd October 2020, after more than six months of closure.

However, as public universities prepare to resume business, the Chairperson of the Forum for Academic Staff in Public Universities (FASPU), Dr. Deus Kamunyu Muhwezi, who also heads Makerere University Academic Staff Association (MUASA), has warned that with the reopening of academic institutions, their expectation is that government will deliver on its promise to enhance remuneration for lecturers in public universities.

“We are sure, in the circumstances government would have an alternative for us because, they cannot possibly think we will keep quiet,” Kamunyu said.

The MUASA head says that staff negotiations with government fell flat with the outbreak of COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown pronouncement on lockdown, something he now says they will navigate and see to it that government meets its part of bargain to the teaching staff.

“Our staff who were not properly enhanced as pro rata would have demanded are waiting for an answer, which answer lies with government.”

He hinted at trouble should government renege on its pledge in this matter.

“I hope government knows this was a solid commitment from The Fountain of Honour, which we also take very seriously, and that may threaten harmony, undermine easy reopening of the Universities and push us to unfair situations,” Kamunyu agitated.

Although government recently enhanced salary for professors in public universities to Shs 15m per month as initially agreed in 2014, Kamunyu revealed that majority of university staff remain dissatisfied by the decision to up only the professors’ pay in contravention of an agreement to increase staff compensation across the board. 

“We had informed government that if they go ahead to deviate from the mode of operation originally agreed, then we would lay down our tools. That decision is still there!” Kamunyu cautioned.

Only about 300 out of over 2,900 academic staff employed by public universities are professors, with majority being Assistant Lecturers, Lecturers or Senior Lecturers. 

The decision to enhance only professors’ pay has been interpreted by some as an attempt to ring fence these positions for a few individuals at a time when universities are allegedly stalling on staff promotion.

Also, with Senior Lecturers now earning about Shs 9m, four shy of the promised Shs 13m, the move has entrenched disharmony among university staff.

COVID-19 impact

Kamunyu also pointed out the impact COVID-19 has had on staff performance and social welfare. 

“Our wellbeing extends to social support. There are some things we do to keep moving which are inherent in our culture that have also been discontinued. Our institutions are not very well positioned to offer necessary social support to staff and students,” he explained.

For Filbert Baguma, the Secretary General of Uganda National Teachers Union (UNATU), the absence of necessary psycho-social support by Government to teachers, students and parents drastic affected by lockdown of schools is expected to devastate the teaching-learning process.

“Parents, teachers and learners currently have psychological torture: learners are worried about their future, the parents have failed to manage children at home and teachers, some of whom had their last salary in February, don’t know when they will get back to class,” Baguma said.

In its plan to reopen school, government has allowed finalists and students in candidate classes to return in October, while the fate of the other students remains unclear. In his last address, the President indicated that these could resume in January next year.

Both Kamunyu and Baguma maintain that the ongoing disruption of schools due to COVID-19 underscores the need for government and academic institutions to plan for such crises and build ICT infrastructure to support distance learning.

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