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Gov’t Switches Back to Dialogue as Teachers Remain Steadfast on Strike

Whereas the government has invited UNATU for a meeting, by the time of publication, local government authorities were in the field collecting information for a report on absentee teachers so the information gathered can be used to punish teachers who have refused to return to classrooms.
28 Jun 2022 17:46
The vice president, H.E Jessica Alupo addressing the congregation.

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As the national teachers' strike enters day 10, learning in most schools across the country has come to a standstill with teachers not giving in to threats from the government. 

UNATU announced an indefinite strike under the slogan "All Teachers Matter" in their quest for pay equity and harmonization among teachers of various subjects, and school administrators at all levels of education. 

 

Last week the government threatened to fire all teachers who would not report for duty. A circular to Town Clerks and Chief Administrative Officers was issued ordering them to instruct Parish Chiefs and school inspectors to carry out roll calls and compile lists of teachers who are not in schools. 

While the move was engineered to send teachers back to classrooms, it instead led to the closure of schools as teachers and learners in different districts opted to stay away from schools as of Monday this week until the teachers' salary is harmonized.  

Now, the government has since gone back to the drawing board, inviting UNATU leadership for meetings. URN has learnt that both the Vice President Jessica Alupo and the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Public Service have called them for two separate meetings scheduled to take place on June 29 and July 1, 2022 respectively to discuss ways of ending the strike.  

In a letter addressed to the union, the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Public Service, Catherine Bitarakwate Musingwiire who had previously referred to the ongoing strike as illegal, seemed to be acknowledging its legality thus calling for a meeting with UNATU leadership.  

 

“This is therefore to invite you and four of your Executive Members for a meeting with the Ministry of Public Service on Friday, 1 July 2022 at 2:00 pm in the ministry boardroom. The meeting will focus on issues raised for industrial action,” Bitarakwate’s letter reads in part.  

Filbert Baguma, UNATU secretary-general, notes that dialogue and negotiations should have been used in the first place instead of threats as suggested during a meeting on June 15 chaired by President Yoweri Museveni.

 

At the meeting that UNATU leaders and different government ministries attended, President Museveni appealed to teachers to return to class. In the meeting, the president asked the Ministries of Finance, public service, and Education to meet with the teachers and solve the salary disparities as raised by UNATU. 

According to Baguma, instead of threatening teachers, it would have been better for authorities at the public service ministry to address the issues raised. 

 

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 Inspection for absent teachers still going on 

Whereas the government has invited UNATU for a meeting, by the time of publication, local government authorities were in the field compiling names of absentee teachers. The information gathered will be used to take action against teachers who have refused to return to classroom.  

Already, there are reports from some districts like Mukono, Gulu, and Mbarara indicating that a section of teachers has rushed back to schools following the threats. 

Baguma is puzzled why the government which is calling for dialogue is still intimidating teachers with the inspections. He further scoffs at the claim of deleting striking teachers off the payroll noting that intimidating workers on industrial action with threats of firing them is illegal.

 

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The Employees Act section 76 notes that the participation or intended participation of an employee in a strike or other form of industrial action shall not constitute a fair reason for dismissal or for the imposition of a disciplinary penalty where the strike or other industrial action is lawful. 

 

During a media interview, Bitarakwate said that although the government might not go to the extreme to delete teachers off the payroll, the circular issued on recording those who are absent has not been reviewed or recalled. 

The permanent secretary further added that the law provides for reprimanding workers who abscond from duty. She insisted that teachers who will not be found at school will be served with a letter requesting them to explain why they are not on duty.   

 

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According to her, the ongoing industrial action is no longer necessary. She further explains that the primary objective of the industrial action is to advance a claim that teachers have already made. 

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While, Bitarakwate insists on the need for daily inspection, implementing local governments have no resources to carry out the activity as required. Moses Olok, the chairperson of the District Inspectors of School Association who also doubles as Kayunga inspector of schools, cites lack of human and financial resources.   

“For instance, I have 167 government schools in Kayunga. However, we don’t have enough manpower to cover all these schools,” Olok told Uganda Radio Network. Many other local governments have also reported that they might not be able to produce the said reports on time as required due to a lack of funds.

Joyce Nalubega, Entebbe municipal education officer, said that they don’t have any funds to carry out the inspection. “Entebbe municipal council does not have any resources since the financial is ending and the system is getting off but we have told officers to use their own money and ask for refunds later. However, this cannot go far with the high fuel rates,” she noted.

Peter Nsiimire, the Ibanda District Schools Inspector, also raised a similar issue but hastened to add they are working around the clock to devise means of handling the matter at hand.  

In addition to lacking finances, Olok questions the quality of the reports which will be provided since the government resorted to using Parish and Sub Counties Chiefs to increase manpower. 

  

“In schools, there are teachers who are present but not teaching. As inspectors, we can tell whether teaching and learning are going on or not. A teacher might be present in class but when he is not teaching. This might not be assessed by the deployed town clerks and parish chiefs,” he adds.   

             

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