When President Museveni met representatives of medical workers at State House last week, he reportedly sounded a clear warning: he would declare a state of emergency and arrest them if they went on strike.
On Tuesday, the doctors defied him - taking industrial action under their umbrella body, Uganda Medical Association (UMA).
A siege mentality is creeping around the government since medical workers are not the only civil servants currently protesting against poor pay. Public prosecutors under their umbrella Uganda Association of Prosecutors (UAP) have, for the second time this year, laid down their tools.
Don Wanyama, the senior presidential press secretary, told The Observer yesterday that the bottom line was the resource envelope.
"We need to look at the bigger picture. What impact, for instance the demand for salary increment, will have on the economy," Wanyama said.
He said government was aware that traditional civil servants - doctors, teachers, etcetera - earn much less than those working in commissions and newer state agencies.
These are issues that the long-awaited salary review commission is expected to point out. In 2015, a report written by parliament's committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises revealed glaring salary and remuneration disparities in and across entities.
"It is not clear whether salaries are determined by the level of academic qualification, size of the budget or contribution to the treasury," the report said.
Wanyama said the salary review commission is expected to produce its report this month which will help government have a clear sense of how much it needs to enhance civil service pay.
"And government has already demonstrated that it can do it with the teachers. Government has gradually increased their salaries to the level it had promised," Wanyama said, adding that government is already paying Shs 4 trillion annually in salaries.
Yet to some workers, government promises sound like a broken record. Prime Minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda was booed when he went to try to convince health workers not to go on strike.
One government employee told The Observer "It [government] has money. Every day they tell us they are broke but within a second they can find funds to facilitate parliamentarians to go for the so-called [presidential age limit] consultations."
Government last month secured Shs 13 billion,which was handed out to members of parliament to consult voters on the proposal to amend Article 102(b), which caps the age for one to stand for president at 35 and 75 years.
If the status quo stays, President Museveni will not be eligible to stand again in 2021. The amendment has been seen mainly as intended to benefit him.
Government has been accused of spending too much on bloated public administration and partisan politics. For example, residential district commissioners and their many deputies are said to be an unnecessary burden on the treasury since they essentially duplicate the official functions of the local government structures.
New districts, usually announced by Museveni during campaigns, are seen as another waste of resources which could go towards enhancing remuneration of civil servants.
Last October when the health workers issued their warning of a looming strike, their leader Dr Ekwaro Obuku said they had waited since 1996 to have their working conditions improved [as promised by the government] but all in vain.
Next month, the Uganda Judicial Officers Association is expected to resume a sit-down strike after government failed to meet its promise for cars and salary restructuring.
Godfrey Kaweesa, the president of UJOA, told The Observer yesterday: "We have not been told exactly about what's contained in the so-called harmonised pay structure."
Solomon Muyita, the judiciary's senior communications officer, said nothing much has been achieved since the strike was suspended in August.
"Ever since they issued that letter, nothing has been done," Muyita said, referring to Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Kahinda Otafiire's letter in which he was committing government to improve the welfare of judicial officers.
WHAT THEY WANT
Medical workers want an intern doctor to earn a gross monthly salary of Shs 8.5 million from the current Shs 960,000.
A medical officer or teaching assistant to be paid Shs 15 million and be given a two-bedroom house and a 2.5cc vehicle.
A senior consultant doctor or professor must be the highest-paid health worker with a gross salary of Shs 48 million plus allowances.
He/she should also be given a five-bedroom house, 4.0cc vehicle, and three domestic workers. Currently, a senior consultant doctor earns about Shs 3.4 million, a consultant Shs 2.6 million, and a medical officer Shs1.1 million. Government has said it can't afford to meet their demands for now.
Prosecutors say they handle complicated cases like terrorism, corruption and murder yet their salary package is less than what a tea girl at Kampala Capital City Authority earns.
Prosecutors under DPP presently earn a minimum gross salary of Shs 644, 963 with the highest ranking officer, the Senior Principal State Attorney, grossing a monthly pay of Shs 2.1 million.
They want the lowest-ranking officer to earn Shs 3.5 million and the highest to earn Shs 6.2 million.They also want tax exemption on their salaries, professional allowances and allowances for serving in hard-to-reach areas, among others.
When UJOA postponed their strike in August, they warned of another stay-away in December if the government does meet its side of the bargain.
Two weeks to December, government has not come through.Judicial officers want an increase to Shs 95 billion per year on salaries of judicial officials alone, up from the current Shs 14 billion.
Currently, the chief justice earns Shs 20 million; deputy chief justice Shs 18 million and the principal judge Shs 10 million. Supreme court judges earn Shs 9.6 million.
A judge of the Court of Appeal/Constitutional court gets Shs 9.3 million. A High court judge earns Shs 9 million. Grade II magistrates earn Shs 737, 837; senior grade II magistrates Shs 860, 810; principal magistrate grade II Shs 1.2 million; magistrate grade I Shs 1.5 million; and principal magistrate grade I Shs 2.1 million.
A senior principal magistrate grade I gets Shs 2.2m, chief magistrate Shs 2.4m, assistant registrar Shs 3.1m and chief registrar Shs 4.8m.
UJOA proposes that a chief justice earns Shs 55 million, his deputy Shs 53 million, principal judge Shs 50 million, justices of the Supreme court (who are seven) Shs 34 million, justices of the Court of Appeal (who are 13) Shs 33 million, High court judges (who are 47) Shs 31 million.
The lowest officer, the senior principal magistrate grade II, should earn Shs 12.6 million. Other demands include housing, transport and security allowance.