"What is a 15 percent pay increase against 24 percent inflation? To which category of teachers? How is it going to be administered? Is it realistic?" asked Teopista Birungi Mayanja, general secretary of the Uganda National Teacher's Union (UNATU)?
She was responding to reports in the media that government would only increase teachers' salaries to 15 percent, as opposed to the 100 percent the union was demanding.
Under the leadership of UNATU, over 80,000 teachers lay down their tools in July 2011 to force government to increase their salaries in line with inflation levels.
It was not until the Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi announced that the government had committed to a 30% salary increment that the strike did recede.
However, while appearing before the sector budget framework committee for the next financial year, the Education and Sports State Minister Kamanda Bataringaya told MPs that government was short of money and would only realise the increment in a phased manner.
The Prime Minister instead seemed to joke while appearing before the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee on May 17, when he said that he was willing to take a 50 percent pay cut for the sake of teachers and other public servants like medical and judicial workers who are seeking pay increases.
By suggesting that MPs do the same, the PM gave proof that government did not have a viable solution to the teachers' grievances. How many teachers would benefit from it, and for how long?
Birungi says UNATU still maintains there demand for the lowest paid teachers earn Shs 500, 000, and other teacher categories be given a proportionate increment.
According to the Education and Sports Sector Half-Year Budget Performance Committee report, salaries for teachers, like other public servants were recently increased by between 6% and 15 %, and the net take home for the lowest paid teacher will increase from Shs 267,300 to Shs 301,381. However, this falls short of the 30% increment that had been promised.
Akello Judith Franca, the Woman Representative for Agago District, says the Social Services Committee disagreed, and recommended a 30% salary increment in the FY 2012/13, as earlier promised
Unfortunately, this calls for an additional Shs 200 billion to cover the large teacher population, money the government says is unavailable.
Uganda has 129,651 primary teachers and 22,909 secondary teachers on government payroll. An entry-level primary teacher earns Shs 267, 300 and a secondary teacher with a diploma earns Shs 350, 000 while his graduate counterpart gets Shs 450, 000.
At the flat rate of Shs 600,000 for primary school teachers, government would need Shs 777 billion and more every month on their salaries alone, an amount higher than the entire wage bill of the Ministry of Education and Sports.
The report of Parliament's Sessional Committee on Social Services on the Sector Budget Framework papers for Fiscal years 2012/13-2016/17 shows that in 2011/12, the education sector received Shs 1.6 trillion of which Shs 761 billion was wages.
However despite the projected increment of the education sector budget by 10 percent to Shs 1.7 trillion and an increment to 49.6 percent in the wage bill to Shs 881bn, achieving the teachers' salary demands is still impossible.
But Birungi insists that unless government fulfils their demand, UNATU will mobilise all citizens for action.
A UNATU official said planning meetings were already ongoing, led by religious leaders, to create strategies on what options to take if government fails to act and how mobilisation messages can better reach the masses.
But poor pay for teachers is not only a Ugandan but a regional problem. Teachers are some of the worst paid civil servants in East Africa and strike action seems to be the only measure that gets their salaries increased. In Kenya government raised teacher's salaries after the Kenya National Union of Teachers led an 11-day strike. The new salary for the lowest paid teacher will rise from KShs 10,185 (UShs 295,365) in July to KShs 13,750 (UShs 398,750) in July 2011. That of the highest paid teacher will go up from KShs 44,990 (UShs 1,304,710) to KShs 120,270 (UShs 3,487,780) in the same period. In Tanzania, a secondary school teacher with a first degree gets a gross salary of TShs 325,700 (UShs 478,779), while a primary school teacher gets TShs 196,500 (UShs 288,855). However, the Tanzanian union is pushing for a gross salary of TShs 500, 000 (UShs 735,000).