‘There many young people who want these jobs’
Hopes for a deal faded on Monday, as a tough-talking President Museveni threatened to sack teachers who are striking over a 20 per cent salary increament.
Insider sources say President Museveni told the NRM caucus meeting at State House Entebbe, that the teachers’ demands would not be met because government could not suspend its infrastructural development projects and finance a consumptive expenditure budget.
Party sources told The Observer that Museveni proposed that the uncompromising teachers should be dismissed from their jobs.
“There are so many people out there who want these jobs,” Museveni reportedly told the meeting.
Finance Minister Maria Kiwanuka was overheard telling a group of MPs on Monday at Parliament, that getting rid of trouble- shooting teachers was the best way forward.
“If they can’t take what we are giving them, I think it’s better we sweep them aside and recruit young ones who are willing to take what we can offer,” the minister said.
In response, Pedison Bbaale, the deputy secretary general of the teachers’ association, Unatu, said: “The minister [Jessica Alupo] said they have looked for the law which punishes teachers but it is not there. One can be absent for a number of days until it goes beyond two weeks. So, they cannot fire the teachers because they are within the law. So, we will go on with the strike.”
“Industrial action is legally protected by the laws, beginning with Article 40 of the Constitution and the employment Act of 2006 sections 3 and 4,” he added.
According to the Labour Unions Act, ‘an employer should not interfere with the person who has participated in the activities of the union including the industrial action of the organisation in which they are.’
Sources familiar with the NRM caucus meeting that started at 10am and ended at 5pm, said Education Minister Jessica Alupo made a presentation, showing government’s varied interventions to help teachers.
Alupo cited the construction of 32,000 housing units for teachers and a 30 per cent salary increment for science teachers. But MPs like Sylvia Namabidde Ssinabulya (Mityana Woman), Jova Kamateeka (Mitooma Woman) and Godfrey Kiwanda Ssuubi (Mityana North) were unconvinced.
“The minister cannot talk of 32,000 housing units when we have more than 163,000 teachers, this means that the majority are not accommodated, and besides, the 30 per cent increment for science teachers does not benefit primary school teachers,” Namabidde said.
Museveni, justified his hard-line stance against a pay rise, citing the poor grades registered in government schools as opposed to private schools, which allegedly pay their teachers less. But some MPs disagreed with Museveni.
They reminded him that the pre-Universal Primary Education days were better; teachers and pupils ate porridge at break time and food at lunch. They also cited the breakdown in the ministry of Education’s inspectorate department.
“Our [UPE] schools are not inspected unlike the private schools where owners do routine inspections to ensure that teachers teach. The teachers are not beginning their strike today [Monday], they began long ago,” Namabidde said, adding:
“What explanation can the ministry give us for the failures in these schools where all teachers are professionals yet private schools with one or two professionals are doing better?”
Kiwanda drew the meeting’s attention to the deplorable state of UPE schools and proposed scrapping the programme.
“Even in villages, private schools have bigger enrollment numbers compared to UPE schools. This shows that the people have capacity to pay for their children’s education, and that they have also lost confidence in the programme,” Kiwanda said.
The best way to go, Kiwanda suggested, was for the government to enter a public private partnership with proprietors of private schools so that government meets a portion of the school fees and parents top up.
An angry Museveni dismissed the cost-sharing option, insisting that people were too poor to afford it. He threatened to halt ongoing infrastructural development projects in the opposing MPs’ constituencies.
“Can I now stop to work on roads in Mityana and Mitooma districts and then tell your electorate that the works were stopped because your MPs wanted me to increase salaries for teachers? I think I should do that and see how you will get back to Parliament,” Museveni reportedly said.
Interviewed separately today, Kabula MP James Kakooza explained that the president was unhappy since he had been convinced that the 20 per cent pay rise demanded by teachers was unaffordable.
Unatu, which is leading the strike, also came under attack during the meeting.
“It is only fleecing the teachers and I suspect the reason why they are behind this is because of the one per cent deduction they take off the teachers’ salaries. I doubt whether the teachers willingly accepted this arrangement,” a minister said, at the meeting.
In her press statement at the Media Centre today Alupo again urged teachers to ignore Unatu. She ordered RDCs to record all striking teachers.
On Monday, civil society organisations under the Forum for Education NGOs in Uganda (Fenu) joined Unatu in pushing for the increment. They urged teachers to stand firm.
“Empty promises and intimidations to our teachers is a fallacy. No amount of intimidation will make a teacher teach. An untaught society is a doomed society and we cannot afford such!” said Fenu National Coordinator Frederick Mwesigye.
Parliament’s Budget committee is yet to pronounce itself on where to get money to increase teachers’ salaries by 20 per cent. However, reports from the committee suggest that no money was found, although opposition MPs insist there was enough money to increase teachers’ salaries.