Three days into the nationwide teacher's strike, government has asked teachers to return to classes, saying there is no money. Today, Wednesday, the state minister for Public Service, David Karubanga, told a news conference at the Uganda Media Centre that although government acknowledges teacher's demands for salary enhancement but its constrained with funds.
Karubanga said government has already or plans to spend the available money on at least six critical priorities including defence and security, completion of critical oil infrastructure and power stations, revival of the national airline, addressing youth employment and empowerment and construction of irrigation schemes to address climate change.
This financial year 2019/20, he said government will be able to finance phase two of enhancement to a tune of Shs 62.89bn. Of this, Shs 13.8bn and Shs 49bn has been allocated to health and education officers respectively who missed on the first phase of the enhancement.
"So, all public service union leaders are requested to ensure that workers under their jurisdiction continue to be patient and provide services required of them as we deliver Uganda to the middle income status," he said.
In 2017, President Museveni promised to improve salaries for science teachers, arguing that they were few and likely to move to other countries due to low salaries. This led to a strike from their arts counterparts which saw government drop the "selective" increment but sign a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with 10 labour unions to enhance salaries of all public workers on June 22, 2018.
The pay target was approved to be implemented in a phased manner over a period of five years starting from FY 2018/19. In the first phase, at least Shs 525bn was provided for nine categories of public servants
According to Karubanga, the second phase which was supposed to be financed in the FY 2019/20 has been deliberated on but affected by other competing "critical" government proprieties.
STRIKE TO CONTINUE
Karubanga's request seems to have fallen on deaf ears. The Uganda National Teacher's Union (UNATU) general secretary, Filbert Baguma, said the union has not resolved to call off the ongoing industrial action.
He said teachers gave government a 90-day in February this year but lapsed without any formal communication from the respective offices.
"We have heard from the media that government is engaging leaders but we have not seen them anywhere at our office. Today, I received a call around 11am from the state minister [Karubanga] informing me that he has sent a letter. However, I left office 10 minutes to 12am without seeing a letter. It is 25 minutes to 1pm and there's [still] no letter," Baguma said.
"Let government sack these people so that we know that it is reacting in a way that the officers are not doing their work."
While at the Uganda Media Centre, Karubanga had informed this reporter that letters detailing government's position had been issued to union leaders yesterday [Tuesday].
It is here that Baguma said: "If it was sent yesterday, the distance between Public Service and Unatu headquarters on Bombo road is not even five kilometres. Should we assume that yesterday and today the letter is on the way?"
Karubanga said government now intends to invite labour unions leaders to review the first agreement and find means of signing a new agreement. According to the first CBA seen by The Observer, "the agreement may be reviewed through mutual agreement by either party giving the other a three months' notice."
For teachers who intend to abscond work starting Monday next week, the state minister said the available public service laws will deal will decisively with their "defiance." Baguma had no kind words either.
"What has he [Karubanga] been waiting for to address our issues yet we have evidence that he received our letters? When we signed the CBA, he was in the boardroom. If government didn't have money, where was he to communicate since the budget cycle started [in October 2018]?"
On dealing with defiant teachers legally, Baguma asked Karuhanga that: "Was he having his head when he was sitting and negotiating with us? Was he using his home-based laws or national laws? So, if he thinks he is going to evoke the laws, let him do."
Baguma wants government to fulfill its promise to enhance salaries of teachers in U17 salary scale from Shs 469,000 to Shs 600,000; U6 from Shs 550, 000 to Shs 670,000; U4 from Shs 670,000 to Shs 1.1m and U5 science teachers from Shs 800,000 to Shs 1.2m.
For primary school head teachers and graduate arts teachers in U4 scale, they agreed to raise their salary from the current Shs 919,000 to Shs 1.7m while graduate science teachers in the same scale would jump from Shs 1.2m to Shs 2.2m.
Science teachers at senior level in U3 were set at Shs 2.3m from Shs 1.7m; U2 science teachers at principal level Shs 2.4m from Shs 1.8m; secondary head teachers and heads of certificate awarding institutions were both raised to Shs 2.6m from Shs 1.9m.
Principals and heads of diploma awarding institutions would be the highest paid at Shs 3.1m up from Shs 2.3m. By May 15, Karubanga said at least 79 local governments had not yet remitted April salaries for some officers.