18 March 2014

Uganda: MAK Lecturers Call Off Strike

Lecturers at Makerere University's school of Social Sciences returned to class on Monday, after a five-day strike.

Among other grievances, the striking lecturers demanded payment of salary arrears worth over Shs 500m. The decision to abandon the strike followed a series of meetings, including one on Monday with the vice chancellor, Prof John Ddumba-Ssentamu.

The vice chancellor met heads of departments from the school and the principal of the college of Humanities and Social Sciences (Chuss), Prof Edward Kirumira, and later the student leaders.

The Friday meeting, although inconclusive, laid the background for the Monday session that agreed that lecturers return to work.

Chuss Spokesperson Hasifa Kabejja said the lecturers had agreed to resume teaching, although it remained unclear when the arrears would be paid.

"Arrears are going to be paid as the university gets money. They [the lecturers] have agreed to go back to class and teach," she said on Monday.

It is unclear when the strike actually started. In a February 19, 2014 petition, the staff had indicated that they would go on strike if their demands were not met. However, a March 6, 2014 University Council resolution dismissed the matter, and some staff returned to work. Others insisted to laying down their tools.

The matter prompted a March 13, 2014 letter from the deputy Vice Chancellor in charge of Finance and Administration, Dr Barnabas Nawangwe, to the principal of Chuss. In his letter, Nawangwe explained that management was aware of the staff arrears and would pay as soon as funds were available.

He also urged the Chuss leadership to urge staff to return to work.

"Management observed that the decision by some members of staff at the school of Social Sciences to abandon their duties, due to non-payment of arrears, in spite of management's commitment to pay, was done in bad faith," Nawangwe wrote.

The letter also asked the principal to forward the names of staff, who remained on strike by last Friday, to management for appropriate action. But by Monday, it was clear that everyone was on strike - and no classes were going on. Angered by the outcome, students demonstrated on campus, calling for action. This prompted the vice chancellor to call a meeting with the staff.

The resolutions

We understand that during the meeting, the lecturers reiterated their desire to secede from Chuss, to become independent just like the school of Law. Consequently, the meeting resolved to create a committee to review the working of the collegiate system and come up with recommendations.

"Breaking away is a process. The vice chancellor will write to the dean authorising him to form a committee that will come up with a proposal on why the college system is not delivering," Kabejja explained after the meeting. "The committee will provide recommendations that will form the basis of the decision to secede or not."

The lecturers also want the university to refund their individual contributions to the construction of a new Social Sciences building, which has never been built. Responding to this, Prof Ddumba-Ssentamu told the lecturers that construction would begin in October with funding from the African Development Bank. He said the university would find a way to compensate the staff once the building was complete.

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