Teachers wore T-Shirts mocking the 15 percent salary enhancement government has offered them this Financial Year. The 15 percent would give the lowest paid teacher only about Shs40,000 extra. photo BY Isaac Kasamani.
By AL MADHI SSENKABIRWA
Posted Monday, July 23 2012 at 01:00
On July 13, teachers under their umbrella body Uganda National Teachers Union (Unatu) announced that they were set to down their tools for two days (July 16-17) if government fails to address their long standing concerns primarily over pay and welfare. Many thought this could pass like any other threat. But the educationists kept their word and maintained a strike through the two days.
A pressure group cobbled together to give the teachers’s demands a broader scope than just salary, Citizens Action for Quality Public Education (CAQPE) was in fact the real force behind the latest round of action. The group says its main intension is to expand the scope through which challenges in the education sector are viewed and discussed.
The major question however, is whether the teachers, after nearly five years of recurrent pressure are making progress in getting government to listen and the public to notice.
When the teachers carried out their last major strike last year, government responded by deploying security teams to monitor and file reports on those that had taken part. The action partly helped stem a prolonged strike action. But while the teams were out wagging the stick, at a more diplomatic level, government engaged with the leadership of the teachers’ union with meetings involving the Prime Minister and the President and the line ministries who tried to cook up solutions.
That the strikes are persisting means that neither side has relented and that neither carrot nor stick has worked so far.
Mr Stephen Kawalya a parent thinks the persistent strikes are not helping the teachers’ cause. “Striking for two days and returning to class without getting what forced you to lay down your tools is meaningless. In fact those teachers made no point there!” says Mr Kawalya , a parent of four children who attend school in one of the public primary schools in Kampala .
This is the second time in a year teachers are laying down their tools to protest what they term as ‘deplorable working conditions and unreasonable pay,’ but Ms Teopista Birungi, the secretary general Unatu thinks otherwise, saying they partly achieved their goal of popularising their cause.
“We didn’t strike to get an increment that day. We wanted to awaken government and other stakeholders about our plight .We are optimistic that the message was sent and we are expecting a response from those concerned,” she said last week
Mr Issa Matovu , an education expert concurs with Ms Birungi, saying the strike has started registering positive results including relaxing the UPE programme policy to allow pupils get lunch at school. “Their action was strategic and government seems to have swallowed its pride when it announced that schools will soon be allowed to provide lunch to pupils” he said in an interview last week adding
“This was just the start and there is likely to be a series of more engagements.”
Education minister Jessica Alupo says government wholly appreciates the teachers’ concerns but it is simply limited by resources. “We are not simply seated as government, their (teachers) problems have always been on our figure tips but we are only limited by funds,” she said.
Because of this, Ms Alupo says government has now decided to tackle their problems in phases, with some referred to coming fiscal years. But Mr Livingstone Ssewanyana, the executive director Foundation for Human Rights Initiative disagrees with Ms Alupo saying government has the resources but has ‘simply’ failed to prioritise education. “Their (teachers) demand is too modest compared to the money that is being misused .The problem is that as a county we have failed to get our priorities right,” he said.
Mr Ssewanyana says teachers have to keep on pushing government if they are to have their long standing issues addressed. “A struggle for rights is not a one-off fight. They have to soldier on and it is good that they have come out and have every stakeholder’s support,” he added. He gave the example of the Kenyan government that earmarked KShs118.7billion (Shs3.4trillion) for teachers’ salaries this financial year while Uganda budgeted Shs290billion for salary enhancement across the spectrum of the public service.
Although Ugandan teachers are demanding for 100 percent pay raise, their counterparts in Kenya want 300 percent. The least paid teacher in Kenya takes home Ksh13, 750 (Shs398, 750), which they want to be raised to Ksh74250 (Shs3.4million) .The highest paid teacher earns Ksh120, 270(Shs3.4million) and now want Ksh649, 458 (Shs 18.8million).
However, like here, the Kenyan government has also declined to consider such increment this financial year, saying teachers are already under a collective bargaining agreement that is supposed to end in July 2013. A primary teacher in Uganda is currently paid Shs273, 000, a least paid in a secondary school earns Shs350,000 while his graduate counterpart gets Shs450,000. Currently, Uganda has 129,651 teachers on the government payroll teaching in primary and Shs22, 909 in secondary schools.
What gov’t has in store for teachers?
To increase primary teachers’ salaries to Shs360,000 from the current 273,000 .Government will also add an increment of 20 percent in 2013/14 fiscal year and another 15 percent in 2014/15 finical year-making it 50 percent which also fall short of the 100 percent increment demanded by teachers.
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