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U-turn as Public Service Ministry calls teachers for dialogue

KAMPALA– The ongoing industrial action called by Uganda National Teachers Union [UNATU] has forced the Ministry of Public Service to invite UNATU leaders for a meeting this Friday, after a series of threats from the government failed to cool down the striking teachers.

It should be remembered that UNATU General Secretary Filbert Baguma Bates announced the industrial action on June 15, 2022, a day after the Finance Ministry read the Shs48.1 trillion budget for the financial year 2022/23.

The budget did not enhance the salaries of arts teachers, sparking the strike that has left both primary and secondary schools paralysed.

UNATU, an umbrella of all teachers in Uganda blames government for not honoring the Collective Bargaining Agreement [CBA] signed to improve teachers’ salaries irrespective of the subjects taught.

However, in a letter dated June 27, 2022, and received by Baguma on June 28, 2022, Public Service Permanent Secretary [PS], Catherine Bitarakwate Musingwiire, says the meeting will focus on issues raised for industrial action.

“This is to you and four of your Union Executive members for a meeting with the Ministry of Public Service on Friday 1st July 2022 at 2:00pm in the Ministry Boardroom. The meeting will focus on issues raised for Industrial Action,” the PS wrote.

The latest development comes at a time when government has threatened to delete striking teachers from its payroll, even though analysts say the threat does not address the problem of salary enhancement for all the teachers.

UNATU General Secretary Baguma has urged teachers to stay at home despite the threats from the government, reasoning that industrial action is lawful as provided for in Labour Act 2011 the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda of 1995 as amended.

“Teachers are advised to ignore such form of intimidation because industrial action is lawful,” he said, adding that “UNATU legal team is ready to provide support.”

He confirmed that the action against discretionary salary enhancements is still continuing, asking heads of educational institutions to cooperate “in this struggle.”

Last Thursday, legislators urged government to treat teachers equally following the increment in the salaries for science teachers in public schools.

UNATU cites failure by government to honour the CBA arrived at in 2018 to enhance salaries.

In a press conference MPs expressed discontent with the decision taken by government giving teachers a two-day ultimatum within which to cease their industrial action.

Buhweju County MP Francis Mwijukye, accused government of issuing threats against teachers through the Ministry of Public Service.

“The Ministry of Public Service should be protecting the teachers against threats. The document released by them is unfair, illegitimate, and is against the Employment Act,” Mwijukye said.

He added that the teachers should not be forced to teach because it could be viewed as a political move.

“There should not be any form of division amongst people of the same profession in any way. They should be treated the same because one subject relies on others too,” he noted.

Bugiri Municipality MP, Asuman Basalirwa, described the ongoing situation as a crisis that needs to be addressed.

“The teachers are only demanding for their constitutional rights, they are government employees governed by the labour laws and protected by it,” he said.

Basalirwa also cautioned government officers trying to implement the directives by the government.

“No officer, therefore, has the right to intimidate them as they have the freedom of collective bargaining. The officers who will do this should be ready to personally pay for the damages and costs that will arise from the court cases among others,” Basalirwa added.

He recommended that a supplementary budget should be put in place for equitable rights of both the science and arts teachers.

He also said that government should withdraw the ‘threatening document’ and rather engage and negotiate with the teachers.

MP Joseph Ssewungu, [Kalungu County West] said that the decision to pay science teachers in exclusion of arts teachers is discriminatory according to Article 102b of the Constitution.

“All the teachers have teaching certificates and should not be discriminated against. The job description is the same and a teacher cannot be equated to a doctor,” he said.

PS Bitarakwate, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Public Service, had said that any teacher who would not resume work by Friday, 24 June 2022 would be sacked, but it has now been extended to June 30th, while UNATU leaders say the strike must go on.

Sources in the Ministry of Finance say Shs 400bln in the new budget is provided to enhance salaries for all scientists, including science teachers and medical workers. Of the Shs 400bln, Shs 111bln is earmarked to enhance salaries for science teachers and Shs 27bln for scientists in tertiary institutions.

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