The Ugandan government's failure to fulfil its pledge to increase teachers' salaries has resulted in country-wide strikes, with no easy resolution on the horizon.
On Monday, school teachers in Uganda began strike action, after their demand for a 20% pay increase was left unmet by the government. Schools around the country have been paralysed by the strike, which began just as students were supposed to begin the final term of the academic year.
The Ugandan government has been left in a precarious position by the strike action, as many schools across the country, mainly government-run facilities, remain closed since the beginning of the week.
Parents and their children were seen reporting for lessons on Monday, but the absence of their teachers has meant that education administrators have had to advise parents to keep their children at home until further notice.
This is your final warning
The dispute between the government and the teachers' unions over its members' salaries has been raging for over three months. On June 14 earlier this year, teachers under the umbrella of the Uganda National Teachers' Union (UNATU) issued the Ugandan government a 90-day ultimatum to meet their demands of increasing teachers' salaries by 20%.
James Tweheyo, secretary general of UNATU, explains that, according to Act 2008 of Public Service Negotiating, Consultative and Disputes Settlement Machinery, UNATU is required to give the 90 days' notice to the Chair of the National Negotiation Council before embarking on industrial action.
The union was compliant and the 90 days were complete on September 14, 2013, from which point UNATU's 159,000 members have refused to teach until their demands are met.
The government claims that it has no more funds to increase teachers' salaries. The Ugandan Minister of Information, Rose Namayanja, told Think Africa Press in a telephone interview that there is no money to increase salaries at the moment. She urged teachers to think like parents, resume their work and wait patiently for a final answer from the President on the matter.
However, teachers are angry that the apparent cash shortfall did not stop the government from previously promising a pay rise for teachers, after their union issued its ultimatum earlier this year.
In a meeting held with the UNATU National Executive Council at State House, on Thursday 25 July, Uganda's president Yoweri Museveni agreed that the 20% salary increment for teachers in financial year 2013/14 should be paid.
He then ordered Jessica Alupo, the Minister of Education and Sports, to analyse the budget and find the money to pay the increase within two weeks of the meeting. However, up to now nothing has been done.
Museveni, has allegedly justified his failure to deliver by citing the poor grades produced by government schools compared to the private sector, which he claims pay their teachers less. However, teachers argue that all they want is a fair deal and that the government is treating them badly.
Teachers' pet hates
Uganda has 160,000 primary teachers who are among the worst-paid public workers in the East Africa. Secondary school teachers take home 450,000 shillings a month ($175), whilst their primary school counterparts earn an average of just 250,000 shillings ($97).
Furthermore, some teachers have claimed that they sometimes only receive half of their salaries or that their names have been deleted from the payroll without justification.
In July, it was revealed that tens of thousands of public sector workers, including teachers, had gone several months without having received any of their salary.
Yet, poor salaries are not the only problem teachers face. Poor housing, equipment, and facilities, plus a new system whereby a teacher's tenure is dependent on performance, have made life very difficult for teachers, both inside and outside the classroom.
Considering that Uganda is the second most corrupt country in East Africa, with government officials having been accused of taking bribes and embezzling public money, teachers have found the government's claims that there are no funds available particularly grating.
A history lesson
The dispute is a setback for the country's desires to improve its education system and achieve its Millennium Development Goal targets.
In 1997, the Ugandan government introduced a free education system, known as Universal Primary Education (UPE), regarded as one of the government's main policy tools for reducing poverty and increasing economic development.
The UPE programme was rolled out nationally and aimed to provide free education to all young Ugandan children. All tuition fees were abolished and Parent and Teacher Association charges for primary education were scrapped.
UPE stipulated that the government would be responsible for providing facilities and resources and for ensuring that education would be affordable for the majority of Ugandans.
It was hoped that by eliminating disparities in the system and reducing poverty generally, every Ugandan child would enter and remain in school at least until the primary cycle of education was over.
Following its introduction in 1997, the Ugandan government saw enrolment in primary schools increase from 3.1 million in 1996 to 7.6 million in 2003. This huge expansion was encouraging, and in 2007 Uganda became the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to introduce free universal secondary education, known as UPS.
However, several years down to road, cracks have started to show in both programmes for universal education and Uganda is struggling to stem the decreasing numbers enrolled at primary and secondary levels.
There have been reports of declining standards in government-run schools; due to a lack of faith in state-run schools some parents are now putting their children into private facilities. Teacher strikes will not be aiding efforts to restore confidence in government-run schools.
Since the teachers' ultimatum ended this weekend, there have been a series of meetings between UNATU and the inter-ministerial committee, led by Alupo. Negotiations between the two sides have not been helped by conflict between Ugandan MPs and teachers, however.
Newspapers in Uganda have reported that party sources have disclosed that Museveni proposed that uncompromising teachers be dismissed from their jobs. He is alleged to have said that firings would be possible because, "There are so many people out there who want these jobs."
But, as these countries have learnt, easily solving public sector wage disputes is no easy matter - especially in a climate of limited funds. As relations between teachers and the Ugandan government turn increasingly sour, there seems to be a decreasing likelihood of a quick resolution to the crisis.
Nangayi Guyson, is an investigative journalist based in Uganda's capital Kampala. He writes about social, economic, humanitarian and political issues on the African continent.
He has written many articles for different media outlets across the African continent and the outside world. You can follow him on twitter at @nguyson, or visit his blog.