FILBERT BAGUMA, the secretary general of the Uganda National Teachers’ Union (Unatu) has suggested in this interview with Yudaya Nangonzi that teachers of Arts subjects are still enraged at government’s refusal to give them a pay rise.
They were forced back in class last month after three weeks of strike action but they cannot be forced to teach, Baguma said.
The teachers walked off their jobs on July 15 demanding equal pay with their science counterparts but were forced back in class without a pay rise.
Baguma insists that if the government remains unresponsive to the arts teachers’ demands, “We shall have so many things at play next term including, and not limited to, refusal to mark Uneb examinations this year.”
Why did Unatu call off the arts teachers’ strike unexpectedly?
We didn’t call off the strike. We suspended it. We were on strike for three weeks running and during that time, we met the president twice and the vice president but we didn’t make any headway.
If you are negotiating with the government and you are talking to the president who insists on doing what he wants, you hit a dead end. I want to believe that to date; the president does not know the consequences of his decision. There’s no doubt that education is going to die whether they want it or not.
To suspend the industrial action, we had made our point clear and all stakeholders understood and supported it. However, we couldn’t be on strike forever. This was not the best option at that time because today, the arts teachers’ emotions are still high. We put up our case and whatever comes out of the cabinet decision, they must own it and be held accountable for making such decisions that are not well thought through.
You were accused of bribery after the suspension...
Of course, we have saboteurs and haters. If Baguma was bribed, was it done underground or in space? Whoever accuses me should bring evidence. There was no small meeting that was organized to bribe me and other Unatu officials. Those accusations came before we met with the president at Kololo, which ended unceremoniously. So, how can someone bribe you and then resolve nothing?
Why did the meeting end unceremoniously?
We did not agree with the president and we still disagree with his decision. When I was still explaining our issues, he ordered for the national anthem to be sung and the function ended. His decision remains a danger to the education sector. The cabinet thought that correcting a mistake would dent their reputation.
They didn’t look at the future effects. The insistence on what they did is to the detriment of the Ugandan child and the education system. Cabinet ministers can decide to bury their heads in the sand at the expense of the learners. It is going to go on the record that this cabinet, under the supervision of the president, killed education in this country.
Where does this leave the arts teachers because the Kololo meeting didn’t resolve the impasse?
Currently, the teachers are in schools but they are not teaching because they are not happy. They were dehumanized by the government. They were shown that they are less important than their colleagues.
You will, of course, find them in classes but the government will understand it better when it comes to the Uneb results next year. Arts teachers are pretending to be in school – that is what government wants – but there’s no learning because teachers are not committed.
Has the minister of Education and Sports, Janet Museveni, given Unatu any update since the Kololo meeting?
No. We could be having elements fighting the minister behind her back and she has not yet realized that. Education is going to die in her hands as a presiding officer. The arts teachers are disgruntled and demotivated; parents should not expect much from them.
The minister is being misled by the people who reach her and she needs to be careful. As Unatu, we have written letters thrice seeking an audience but we never got a chance. The people in her office have never given us any feedback on our letters seeking to discuss education matters since she joined the ministry [in June 2016].
While appearing before the parliamentary Human Rights committee last week, the permanent secretary of the ministry of Public Service, Catherine Bitarakwate, said that arts teachers will equally start earning Shs 4m like their science counterparts by the end of five years. Is this fair enough?
She does not know what she is talking about. If she knew, she wouldn’t utter such a thing. Whatever they are doing, they don’t know the consequences. You cannot imagine that a teacher of science will earn Shs 4m in 2022 and an arts teacher earns the same in 2026; that is madness. Where will the learners be in those years?
As Unatu, we shall have so many things at play in those years including, and not limited to, refusal to mark Uneb examinations by arts teachers this year. So, the government should be ready to have a series of actions by the teachers if this is not sorted out.
The public service finally issued a new salary structure reflecting the increments for science teachers....
In education appointments, we do not have people appointed as science teachers. We have education officers for graduates in secondary or assistant education officers for diploma holders; and recently, they introduced a senior education officer. There
is nothing like a science or arts teacher.
This is a wrong creation meant to divide teachers into arts and sciences. Even at the primary level, you are appointed as a teacher or education assistant II or senior education assistant II. Today, you have a secondary school head teacher also a master’s degree holder in scale U1 earning Shs 2.3m. In the same school, the highest paid science teacher on scale U3 has skyrocketed from Shs 1.7m to Shs 4.2m while the lowest paid has jumped from Shs 933,966 to Shs 2.2m.
Now, how do you harmonize these structures? Do you expect the head teacher to effectively supervise science teachers well knowing they are over and above his/her salary? For Arts teachers, the highest paid on scale U3 has remained at Shs 1.3m and Shs 784,214 for those on scale U5.
With the increasing cost of living lately, how will arts teachers cope with holidays amidst the “low pay”?
Even when these teachers are in school, the question is; has the government listened to our plea? I can assure you that opening for the third term may be a challenge because teachers may choose not to go back to classes. The current confusion has already greatly affected the turnout of learners in schools because those who would convince them to come are disgruntled.
The government needs to know that the Covid-19 lockdown proved to the teachers that they can survive without being in the classroom. So, when they are handling teacher issues, they need to be extra careful.
Are strikes a permanent remedy for solving teachers’ issues?
We sat in the national negotiations and consultative council in 2018 and came up with a document that was covering five years. We knew that within this period, nobody would talk about salary issues. Now, government defaults and does not communicate. So, people don’t go on strikes because they want them. That is the only available option.
In the last strike, we scored highly because even an illiterate person understood the issues we were pushing forward and condemned the government. The issue was tabled on the floor of parliament and was unanimously supported by all MPs. We did not get the money in our hands but we managed to get every stakeholder to understand the mistake made by the government.
Does this mean the Collective Bargain Agreement is now of no use?
The agreement was meant to expire in 2022/23 but the government seems to have negated it. We are yet to listen to what
they will say if they call the next council. The meeting had been scheduled for July 6, 2022, and they postponed it. We are still waiting to be called again.
Are teachers committed to teaching next term?
There will be no teaching because the teachers’ morale is very low. Don’t be surprised if you get physical fights among science and arts teachers in schools next term. We may see the worst scenarios as a result of bragging especially if you studied and qualified together with someone who, all of a sudden is earning three times more than you.
If you have students offering both arts and science subjects in their combinations, be rest assured that such students will fail. The few teachers who will return to classes will just be passing time because every day that passes, the anger continues to grow.
President Museveni should be reminded that he cannot force teachers to teach. Even when they are present in class, they can decide to professionally do nothing.
Your message to the teachers...
Arts teachers should remain calm and we shall keep pushing. We are collecting views from our more than 120,000 members and soon, a meeting will be held with top management to chat the way forward during the holidays.
The indicators from the government side show that they are not bothered about the plight of the Ugandan child and teachers. So, we need to put it to them to make sure that Ugandans understand who is for and against them. The government must agree to either kill education or rescue it by correcting the mistake they made at the cabinet level.