Teachers' leaders insisted over the weekend that their countrywide strike would begin today, amid reports that President Museveni is set to meet the NRM parliamentary caucus in Entebbe.
Sources told us Museveni planned to engage the MPs to seek creative ways of responding to the strike, which comes on the first day of the new school term. The teachers are demanding a 20 per cent pay rise. Last Friday, Parliament resolved not to pass the budgets of the ministries of Education and Finance without the teachers' salary increment.
The agenda of the Entebbe meeting was not immediately available, as Government Chief Whip Justine Kasule Lumumba did not answer our calls by press time. But well-placed sources said the teachers' strike was key.
Some MPs fear that caucus members may be coerced into dropping their support for the teachers' action.
"I hope that members will not come out of that meeting intimidated... I hope members will stand firm because the plight of teachers is beyond a political matter that has to be decided in a caucus," said Rosemary Sseninde, the Wakiso Woman MP.
Before this caucus meeting, a series of meetings between the Education, Finance and Public Service ministries have been held aimed at averting the strike. Leaders of the same ministries are also scheduled to meet the president today, before the caucus meeting.
Stand-in minister of Education and Sports, Charles Bakkabulindi had a tough time in Parliament on Friday, failing to answer a barrage of questions from legislators across the political divide.
West Budama North MP Fox Odoi said: "For as long as we continue pretending to be paying teachers, they will continue pretending to be teaching and thereby endangering the future of these Ugandans in their hands."
Bakkabulindi said the teachers should be content with the four per cent salary rise they got recently. The rise came with the June salaries and, according to a circular issued by the ministry of Public Service, it was given to all public servants to cater for the rising inflation.
In his alternative position, shadow Education minister, Roland Mugume (Rukungiri municipality) proposed a minimum wage of Shs 500,000 for primary school teachers and Shs 1m for secondary school teachers.
After getting a 15 per cent increment last financial year, the teachers hoped to get a 20 per cent increment this financial year and the last 15 per cent salary enhancement in the next financial year. With the increment not reflected in this year's budget, leaders of the Uganda National Teachers' Union (Unatu) in June warned they would strike today.
The ministry of Education last week issued a statement warning all teachers to ignore the strike notice and report to work today. In Jinja, Resident District Commissioner Richard Gulume Balyainho has set up a monitoring committee to foil the strike.
"Remember that you joined the profession as an individual, posted to any school as an individual and if your name is deleted from the payroll, you will suffer individually not as UNATU [Uganda National Teachers' Trade Union] or a group," Balyainho said.
In Masaka, the district Inspector of Schools, Betty Namagembe, said an agent would be deployed in each school for the first three days of the term to ensure all teachers were working. In Gomba, District Education Officer Godfrey Kalyango, said district officials had met all teachers on Friday and persuaded them to report for work on Monday.
"We cannot be sure but we tried to convince them to go back to school as negotiations continue. We shall monitor the situation but without forcing anyone," Kalyango said.
UNATU Chairperson Margaret Rwabushaija confirmed that she had received reports of such actions across the country, but insisted the teachers would not be forced to surrender.