Uganda government stops threats, calls for talks to end arts teachers' strike

A teacher briefs pupils of Mpigi UMEA PS on June 21, 2022 after Unatu officials and the school management agreed to close the school in an on-going nationwide teachers' strike.

Just days after threatening to sack all arts teachers involved in the industrial action, the Uganda government has backed down and invited the leaders of the tutors’ union for negotiations to end the ongoing strike that has paralysed learning in public schools for two weeks now.

More than 100,000 arts teachers downed their tools on June 15 over what the Uganda National Teachers Union (Unatu) called a discriminatory salary raise.

The government allocated an over 300 percent pay increment for science teachers in the budget for the 2022/23 financial year, which starts in July.

The Ush95 billion ($25.6 million) allocation did not include arts and humanities teachers.

Last week, the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Public Services, Catherine Bitarakwate, warned the striking teachers that they would be deemed to have resigned and struck off the payroll if they failed to return to class by Thursday, June 30.

But after coming under heavy criticism, Ms Bitarakwate beat a hasty retreat and on Monday invited Unatu officials for talks on July 1.

On Tuesday, the Ministry of Education PS Alex Kakooza also invited Unatu for a meeting to be chaired by Vice President Jessica Alupo on Wednesday, June 29, to “discuss ways of ending the ongoing strike by the teachers”.

“For us we laid down our issues before them. Our position remains the same. We will go and listen to them since they say they are willing to address these issues,” said Unatu Secretary-General Filbert Baguma.

On June 18, President Museveni called a meeting with the executive council of Unatu, and the ministers of Education and Public Service, during which he told teachers’ leaders to call off the strike and resume work since the government’s priority was on science teachers.

After the meeting, Unatu leaders declined to end the industrial action, prompting a flurry of threats from government officials, who termed the strike illegal.

A primary school teacher currently earns Ush568,000 ($153.4) per month, while a diploma holder and graduate teacher at secondary school take home Ush745,000 ($199.8) and Ush1.1 million ($297.1), respectively.

After the new budget allocation, science teachers will earn Ush3 million ($798) for diploma holders and Ush4 million ($1,078) for graduate teachers.

The teachers’ strike, coming just five months after Uganda reopened schools following a two-year closure due to the Covid-19 pandemic, has already caused outrage as more than eight million children in public schools miss out on learning.