By Isaac Masaba
Tomorrow (Wednesday 15th June 2022) is the day the industrial action announced by UNATU officially starts. Ever since the science teachers under their umbrella, UPSTU, briefly staged an industrial action and got a promise of salary increment, the arts teachers have vowed not to let any discriminatory salary enhancement be effected with a fight.
To show that they are serious, a section of arts teachers are contemplating a breakaway union, UPATU (Uganda Professional Arts Teachers Union). This union is yet to be registered and it’s not yet clear if it will see the light of day.
In the meantime, UNATU the mother union has swung into action.
On the 23rd of May 2022, the union gave government notice of industrial action effective 15th June 2022 if the collective bargaining agreement, ratified in 2018, is not implemented.
In the said agreement, which involved several labour unions and sections of the government’s public service authorities, a comprehensive salary enhancement was agreed.
The key salary enhancement which concerns us teachers was that graduate science teachers were to earn Shs Shs 4.8m while their arts colleagues would earn 4.5m. Science teachers at diploma level were to earn Shs 3m while their arts colleagues would pocket Shs 2.7m.
When the science teachers broke away and formed their own union, UPSTU, they were promised Shs 4m for degree holders and Shs 3m for diploma holders. They have since tried to distance themselves from UNATU, castigating it as a failure responsible for the teachers’ woes.
They have also tried to poke holes in the CBA claiming that government did not sign it and so it is not binding. Even some arts teachers are sceptical about UNATU’s seriousness.
However, UNATU’s weaknesses not withstanding arts teachers have no choice but to use it as a vehicle to agitate for a better pay. At least for now.
And while many teachers have welcomed the industrial action and are ready to embrace it, there are also those that see it as any other, like those that have been called before – inconsequential.
Their argument is that the top leaders of UNATU will be called to State House, given brown envelops and they will call off the strike under the pretext of government having agreed to ‘look into’ the teachers’ issues.
Well, we can debate and predict the outcome of the industrial action. But it is here with us. Will you or will you not participate? The big question is: will all arts teachers participate?
Obviously many teachers, especially in the rural areas, will embrace it. But will the teachers in the so called ‘big’ schools participate?
In the past, teachers in these ‘big’ schools have always shunned the industrial actions. Even in the recent industrial action called by science teachers, those in the ‘big’ schools went about their business normally.
In my opinion, the success of this industrial action will not be in the response of government. Rather it will be in the full participation of every teacher of arts; whether in a ‘big’ or ‘small’ school.
I am very certain that the teachers in the so called ‘big’ schools are willing to embrace the industrial action. They however face a tricky situation given the kind of environment they work in.
Teachers in rural/USE schools who do not earn any kind of allowances can very comfortably stay home because they have nothing to lose and because the head teachers have no moral authority to reprimand them since they don’t pay them anything.
But teachers in the ‘big’ schools have been lulled into some kind of comfort zone with PTA allowances ranging from Shs 200,000 to Shs 400,000. In addition to that, some of these schools give teachers physical accommodation or its equivalent in allowances.
The administrations of these schools have a lot at stake to ensure teacher performance. An industrial action is therefore not a welcome idea to them.
Unfortunately, rather than understand that their teachers deserve better pay from government, they see the allowances they give their teachers as a magnanimous offer towards them.
Teachers in these schools who stay away from class in the name of industrial action are faced with threats of disciplinary action. And many teachers succumb at this stage.
In its letter, UNATU urged teachers not to succumb to any amount of threats form school administrations, RDCs, DISOs, etc. But what assurance do the teachers have that UNATU can defend them.
True, the industrial action is legal and is provided for in several government statutes, including the constitution. But we all know that Uganda is not a respecter of laws.
School administrators simply act ultra vires with impunity. They ride on teachers’ ignorance of the laws to bully and subdue them. Therefore, much as UNATU has assured the teachers of protection, it has to do a lot more to reassure them.
It should not just remain on paper. They should engage with teachers and school administrators in any way possible to ensure that teachers are protected from persecution.
Perhaps we need to borrow a leaf from our counterparts in Kenya. KNUT (Kenya National Union of Teachers), the equivalent of UNATU, organised an industrial action a few years back.
Despite several threats from government ALL teachers: primary, secondary and tertiary stuck to their guns. Schools had to be closed as students were also threatening to join their teachers. In the end, the government gave in the teachers got their pay enhancement.
We are all aware of this government’s divide and rule politics. It’s the reason we now have UPSTU and the soon-to-be UPATU; all breaking away from UNATU.
I wonder what happened to ULITU (Uganda Liberal Teachers Union)! But in spite of this divide and rule manoeuvre from the government, it’s up to us teachers to stick to our guns like our Kenyan counterparts did.
An opportunity has been thrown at us.
We either embrace it or shun it. We should not behave like a hungry man who is given a piece of roasted cassava but he begins to doubt if it’s really ready. UNATU remains our voice for now.
As we criticize it, we should also give it the opportunity to lead us in the struggle. But most important, our full participation is key.
Let us not be deceived by the small allowances we may be getting. They are not equivalent to a salary.
And to the UNATU Executive, come on ground and assure teachers that this time it is for real.
The author is a concerned teacher in a ‘big’ school.