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UNATU Facing Further Split

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Mutesasira has already sent out communication rallying his fellow art teachers to support the move. “Remember government always listens to well organized and prepared groups… our fellow science counterparts are pushing for their salary enchantments in this ever-increasing commodity prices period. But silence is on our side,” his letter reads in part.
19 May 2022 08:14
Filbert Baguma, the UNATU national Secretary General

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The once vibrant Uganda National Teacher’s Union-UNATU is on the verge of weakening further following a proposal by disgruntled arts and humanities teachers to break away. Led by Francis Mutesasira, a teacher at Kapeeke Seed School in Kiboga district, the arts teachers accuse UNATU of inefficiency and going in bed with the government instead of fighting for their rights.  

Mutesasira has already sent out communication rallying his fellow art teachers to support the move. “Remember government always listens to well organized and prepared groups… our fellow science counterparts are pushing for their salary enchantments in this ever-increasing commodity prices period. But silence is on our side,” his letter reads in part.  

The teacher, who accuses UNATU of remaining silent on issues affecting all teachers, notes that establishing an independent union is the last resort given the fact that it’s a constitutional right for a worker to associate in a union of their choice. 

The Uganda Constitution of 1995, under Article 40 Section 3(a) provides for the formation of trade unions under which every worker has a right to form or join a trade union of his or her choice for the promotion and protection of economic and social interests.

The move comes a year after science teachers broke away from UNATU and established the Uganda Professional Science Teachers’ Union-UPSTU on grounds that UNATU was not advocating for their rights. While announcing the breakaway, science teachers noted that the current leadership at UNATU became jealous when the government promised to enhance the salaries of science teachers and refused to follow up on the matter.

Vincent Elong, the national chairperson of the Uganda Professional Science Teachers’ Union-UPSTU noted that they realized that UNATU was being overcrowded by primary school teachers who cared less about the challenges affecting other members.

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Elong noted that they tried to cause reforms from within but failed since primary school teachers had the highest number of delegates and could determine the top leadership, which left them no option but to break away. 

He further accused the top leaders of UNATU of turning into a den of thieves who with the help of the ministry of public service were forcing teachers to join the union without their consent. Elong claimed that the moment a teacher is put on the payroll, the UNATU code is illegally put on their salaries.

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However, Filbert Baguma, the UNATU Secretary-General has denied the allegations leveled against the union, noting that they have always pushed the government to prioritize the teacher’s welfare at all levels. 

On the reasons advanced by the science teachers for their decision to start another union, the secretary-general notes that UNATU has been advocating for the enhancement of the salaries of all its members since 2012.

He, however, said that they also realized that science teachers needed extra attention thus pushing the government to give extra money over and above what others are getting.

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He adds that since 2018, UNATU has been engaging the government on the proposed selective salary increment, saying the move is discriminatory, which science teachers interpreted as blocking their bread yet the union wanted all teachers to get what is due to them regardless of their teaching subjects.

This particular matter also featured in his May 12, 2022 letter to teachers, arguing that all teachers of the same qualification should be paid relatively similar salaries as suggested by the 2019 National Teacher Policy. 

In the letter, Baguma noted that if the government failed to work out a grand salary enhancement plan for all categories of teachers, UNATU would rally the affected teachers to leave schools in the hands of those who would have benefited from the enhanced salaries. 

Baguma notes that even having made their position clear on fighting for all teachers as a group, salary enhancement for a section of teachers is becoming a huge problem.  

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Several educationists and unionists are blaming the current split in UNATU and colliding voices among teachers on the government, which they accuse of deliberately dividing the teacher to weaken them. 

Usher Wilson Owere, the chairman general of the National Organization of Trade Unions (NOTU), says that with three or more groups opposing each other, the teachers may end up as the ultimate losers. 

The unionist says UNATU has been one of the strongest unions in the country because of the solidarity of its members, which has helped them to win many things from the government with ease.

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Baguma shares similar sentiments noting that there are forces trying to divide teachers to lose focus of the big picture and concentrate on small things.

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In a recent interview, James Tweheyo, the former Secretary-General of UNATU notes that for so long the union had internal problems, which they could resolve through dialogue. According to Tweheyo, the current leaders in UNATU need to put their ego aside and seek a solution as a disunited union is bad and a disservice to the teachers.  

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UNATU went through a wave of splitting in 2011 when a group of 400 teachers formed the Uganda Liberal Teachers Union-ULITU. At that time, the breakaway faction blamed their mother union for lack of accountability and democratic principles.

The troubled teachers’ union was formed in 1947 by an Act of Parliament under the leadership of John Kissaka. It was then called Uganda Teachers Association but later transformed into UNATU in 2002 as a national teachers’ trade union.

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