The non-teaching staffs in public universities under their association, the Public Universities Non-Teaching Staff Executives Forum (PUNTSEF), have been on strike for some weeks demanding payment of their arrears.
Some universities have relented and returned to work but, Makerere staff had up to yesterday not returned to work. The problem is that government is not honouring its promises.
Previously, the same staffs have laid down their tools in respect of government failure to pay accumulated arrears. Government then promised to clear their arrears in this current financial year 2016/2017. But that has not happened. President Museveni now says paying these arrears means diverting money meant for road construction.
The minister for finance, Matia Kasaijja, says the Shs 13 billion which had been set aside to settle part of the arrears was diverted to priority areas and, perhaps, government will find something for them in December 2016.
This is not fair to the PUNTSEF members! The reasons for strikes by these public sector workers are understandable. They are demanding arrears, which accrued out of the non-payment of their enhanced salaries.
President Museveni has always persuaded the non-teaching staff to call off their strikes and assured them that their enhanced salaries would be catered for in financial years to follow. Now he has changed his mind and is focusing on roads.
These workers, too, have obligations like other public servants such as ministers, MPs, and resident district commissioners whose salary and perks are higher and paid promptly.
They, too, have children to see through school; some have incurred loans, which need to be repaid. They have sick dependants who need to be taken for medical attention.
The ministries of education and finance, together with the president’s office, should endeavor to honour the promises they make to these workers. They should not allow a situation where the only language that can be used in such situations is a strike.
Workers need to be paid what is due to them and they are also expected in turn to deliver their services as required. It is not proper that employers turn these workers into ‘destitute’ yet they deliver their services diligently and whenever it is needed.
Government should treat all its workers equally and should be at the vanguard of ensuring that workers’ rights especially the right to prompt payments of wages is implemented, and not breached.