On Wednesday, government released a bombshell on striking teachers, asking them to return to class or resign from their work.
“The current industrial action by UNATU members is illegal and in breach of the principles and spirit of the law and particularly sections 7(2) a, and b and 8(1) and (3) of the Public Service Negotiating , Consultative and Disputes Settlement Machinery Act 2008 and the recognition agreement signed under this act because UNATU has neither given a notice to strike nor had the dispute settlement machinery exhausted,” Ministry of Public Service Permanent Secretary, Catherine Birakwate told teachers’ umbrella body UNATU over the strike.
“Any government employed teacher who doesn’t comply to this call will be regarded as having abandoned duty and resigned from the Public Service in accordance with Section A –n(17)of the Public Service Standing Orders 2021. The teachers who are not willing to go back to work under the prevailing conditions are free to withdraw their labour as provided for under Section A-n (11) of the Public Service Standing Orders 2021.”
The communications was as a result of a series of meetings between the teachers’ representatives and government, but one State House meeting, also attended by President Museveni sealed their fate.
In a previous June, 19 meeting summoned by the Minister of Education Janet Kataaha Museveni with UNATU leaders there was a stalemate as members of the teachers union walked out with more resolve to proceed with the strike.
The meeting was also attended by President Museveni.
After the meeting, UNATU Secretary General Filbert Baguma confirmed that they were determined and looking for results.
He said that they reminded President Museveni that the move to increase payment of a section of teachers was a breach of the provisions of the Collective Bargaining Power Agreement that was signed with government in 2018.
He said the president asked them for some time to review and have the issue corrected.
In the meantime, Baguma said, the teachers would continue with their industrial action until the review was done.
Furious Museveni calls another meeting
Following the developments, another meeting by President Museveni on June 21 but teachers’ representatives were not included in it.
The meeting was attended by the Ministers of Education, Finance, Public Service, Prime Minister and the Vice President.
According to a source from one of the ministries that attended the meeting, a furious Museveni demanded that teachers open the schools as they have no right to close any school in Uganda.
The president is said to have taken hours talking patriotism and accusing teachers of lacking this attribute when they make uneasy demands.
It is said that the president stated that he is not willing to deal with anyone whose “unpatriotic tendencies” are bent towards derailing the “wonderful plans” of the country.
Museveni is said to have talked about his passion for creating a science led revolution, urging that scientists are the backbone of production.
“He talked about how scientists would have helped the country during covid times had we given them priority before. He said they are fewer and even easier to handle. He insisted that there is no way the country would handle everyone at once,” the source told this website.
By the end of the meeting, the tough speaking Museveni had decided the fate of teachers, calling upon the line ministries to lock the striking teachers out of the schools and opening up for other teachers to get employed in their place.
“He said those who want to teach should report, but those who do not want to teach should stay home,” the source adds.
This is not the first time Museveni is sending such a threat to teachers.
In 2013, the president cheekily told striking Makerere University lecturers who didnt want to return to work without salary increment to go and rear goats.
Museveni “threats” implemented
Following the meeting, Vice President Jessica Alupo told the teachers that there are readily no resources to implement their demands asking them to “understand the position of government”.
Alupo said that closing schools by striking teachers is illegal and not acceptable.
“My thinking is that no teacher whether on strike or not, has the legal right or justification to close a public school,” Alupo, a former Minister for Education and Sports said in a statement.
She also warned some elements whom she said were intimidating the teachers who are willing to carry on with their work.
The Ministry of Public Service Permanent Secretary, Catherine Bitarakwate had given an ultimatum for teachers to return to class or resign.
“By copy of this letter, the chief administrative officer and town clerk are called upon to take stock of the teachers present and submit absent teachers by June 30, for eventual removal from the payroll.”
Alupo’s letter, in all ways similar to the Ministry of Public Service letter UNATU were clear signs to teachers that the authors were reading from the same script and were implementing President Museveni’s “threats” following the June 21 meeting at State House.
However, despite the threats from government, UNATU General Secretary, Filbert Baguma insists that the strike will continue, urging that government can not claim to be out of resources, yet they are dishing millions of monies to MPs as a token of thanks.
“If you don’t have money then don’t show signs of extravagance. Recently, the government went to parliament with a supplementary budget, within that budget there was a “thank you” of 40 million shillings for MPs,” Baguma said.
It awaits to be seen what will happen next if teachers refuse to comply to the government directive.