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Science Teachers’ Strike Marred by Division, Threats from Headteachers

Sulaiman Ssemwogerere, the Coordinator for Uganda Professional Science Teachers Union in Luwero district, says that some headteachers have been threatening to write to Chief Administrative Officers to delete the names of the striking teachers from the payroll. According to Ssemwogerere, the headteachers claim that the science teachers’ strike is illegal and those who participate in it are considered to have absconded from duty.
Some members of Uganda Professional Science Teachers’ Union-UPSTU in Masaka who striking over pay

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The Uganda Professional Science Teacher’s Union is struggling to sustain their industrial action, which has entered the second week amidst promises and threats. 

The union, which brings together science teachers in secondary schools and instructors in tertiary institutions, mobilized its members to lay down their tools at the start of the reopening of the second term to compel the government to enhance their salaries.   

On day four of the strike, the cabinet resolved to increase the salaries of the striking teachers from Shillings 1.2 million to Shillings 4 million. However, even with this promise, union officials said the teachers will not return to class until the government commits to the promises in writing. 

Now, reports from different parts of the country indicate that there is growing division among UPSTU members with some already resuming work noting that their concerns have already been handled referring to the cabinet decision communicated last week. 

A teacher in Kampala told URN on condition of anonymity that continuing with the strike doesn’t make sense since the government promised to give them a pay raise starting the next financial year. The teacher explained that by striking he was losing out on the daily allowances paid by the school.

“Whenever I teach, I get some extra money daily. I need to put food on the table at home and even return my children to school. There is no reason why I should keep striking (and lose the allowance) when the government has addressed our plight in the first week and promised to increase our salaries to four million,” the teacher noted.  

Although some teachers have willingly returned to work, several others from districts in Greater Luwero, Mukono and Masaka are reportedly receiving threats from their supervisors and some local government officials to return to class or face “consequences”.       

Sulaiman Ssemwogerere, the Coordinator for Uganda Professional Science Teachers Union in Luwero district, says that some headteachers have been threatening to write to Chief Administrative Officers to delete the names of the striking teachers from the payroll.  According to Ssemwogerere, the headteachers claim that the science teachers’ strike is illegal and those who participate in it are considered to have absconded from duty. 

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Similar reports have been recorded at Makerere College School in Kampala where 25 science teachers on the government payroll shied away from the strike due to threats from the administrators.  

Martin Miyingo, the headteacher of Makerere College, confirms that they actually warned to penalize teachers who fail to show up for duty.  “The routine is if you miss a lesson, we write a letter to the disciplinary committee for action and they all know that. They all had to turn up,” Miyingo said.  

Anent Namuliira, a teacher at St Charles Lwanga Kasasa, who is also the UPSTU coordinator of central region, says that officials from the Ministry of Education are clandestinely plotting against the teachers thinking that if they are divided the strike will lose meaning.   

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Amidst intimidation, some teachers have held their ground and stayed away from the class since the term began. This has been observed at Kololo High school, Kisenyi Lake View SS in Nakasongola district and Nakaseke Technical Institute among other schools.  

Keefa Tamale, an instructor at Nakaseke Technical Institute accuses the government of practising salary discrimination by increasing the salaries of other scientists and ignoring others. Tamale says that it's painful for him to see his former students earning higher salaries yet he is still languishing in poverty. 

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Moses Byamugisha, a teacher in Lyantonde district also says that they are not bowing down to any pressure from authorities until their demands are fully considered.   

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As the teachers continue staying away, some headteachers are struggling to find alternative ways of ensuring that learners more so the candidates continue with their studies. Ibrahim Ssembatya, the deputy headteacher of Kololo High school, says that his school tried to talk to the striking teachers to return in vain forcing management to improvise and hire two retired teachers of chemistry and mathematics to engage the candidate classes.

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Vincent Elong, the national chairperson of the Uganda Professional Science Teacher’s Union, says that no amount of the threats will solve the apparent stalemate as the union is preparing to mobilize and reorient the teachers on their rights as workers and the legal basis for the industrial action.    

“If need be, we will go for those headteachers who are trying to threaten our members. This industrial action is a right and we followed the right procedures before declaring it. the ministry of education and ministry of public service are much aware of our strike and we not going to give up,” says Elong. 

Elong that as they have rejected threats and empty promises from the government. “We have been promised since 2017. This year, the first time they made a verbal commitment that all scientists including teachers were to get a pay rise we discovered later that Shs139 billion meant for us had been diverted to other scientists,” Elong adds. 

He noted they can call off the strike when the government make a written commitment that their salaries are going to be included in the budget for the financial year 2022/2023.               

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