May 18, 2024
Special reports

Science Teachers Form Rival Union

By George Bita

Science teachers are about to break away from the Uganda National Teachers’ Union (UNATU), because of differing opinions on salary rise. Robinson Chepkwurui, who teaches biology and chemistry at Sebei College Tegres in Kapchorwa district, says science teachers are being mobilised to register with a new umbrella body known as the Uganda Professional Science Teachers Union (UPSTU).

“At first, the group called itself the Uganda National Science Teachers’ Union (UNASTU), but we were told it sounded like UNATU acronym, hence the change to UPSTU,” Chepkwurui, who is the SUPSTU co-ordinator in Sebei sub-region, says. He says 230 science teachers in Sebei sub-region have already registered with the new group.

Jessica Avaco, the West Nile regional co-ordinator, says many science teachers have also registered under the new group. “It is time to have an association specifically for science teachers. That way, we can address the unique problems we face on our own,” she says.

What went wrong?

Chepkwurui says in the 2018/19 financial year, the Government set aside sh98b for the enhancement of science teachers’ pay. “A graduate science teacher was going to earn sh2m, while a diploma holder was to get sh1.75m. Unfortunately, UNATU opposed this,” he says.

Chepkwurui says instead of UNATU opposing President Yoweri Museveni’s decision to enhance the salary of science teachers, it should have lobbied the Government to increase the pay for those who teach arts.

He says the increment was implemented for about two months, after which UNATU asked Parliament to reverse it.

Peter Okello, a chemistry teacher at Sir Samuel Baker Secondary School in Kitgum district, who is also the national co-ordinator of UPSTU, says UNATU betrayed them, hence the decision to form a breakaway union.

“President Museveni had given science teachers an increment in the financial year 2018/19. Unfortunately, UNATU fought it and consequently, the then Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, asked the Government to stop it,” Okello says.

He says Kadaga made the directive in response to Parliament’s education committee recommendation at the request of UNATU.

Olivia Cheropich, the UPSTU district co-ordinator and a teacher at Sebei College Tegres, says most members of UNATU were conscripted into the union without consent.

“Most teachers just found the UNATU monetary deduction code on their payslips,” Cheropich says.

Moses Wambi, the Busoga regional UPSTU co-ordinator, says most UNATU executives are from primary school teacher background.

“That is why they fail to advocate the needs of science teachers. Unlike in secondary schools, every teacher can teach science at primary level. That is why they fail to see the difference,” Wambi says. However, Gerald Sangayi, the Iganga district UNATU chairperson, insists the union with a national membership of over 140,000 caters for all teachers.

“We also have respective teachers’ Savings and Credit Co-operatives Societies in each local government and all teachers benefit. It saves teachers from loan sharks,” Sangayi says.

Gorreti Kisakye, the UNATU vice-chairperson for Kampala Central, wonders why science teachers have opted to agitate for better pay.

“If we want our education to improve then we should be united. Why seek to improve salaries of only a group of teachers?” Kisakye asks.

Kisakye, also a teacher of English and literature at Old Kampala Secondary School, believes the move is a recipe for confusion in schools.

“Since both science and arts teachers go to the same marketss, they should get equal treatment. Any differences in pay will divide us,” she says.

A chemistry teacher prepares chemicals for use in a practical lesson. Science teachers said the move by UNATU to oppose their pay rise was not just

Hostile history

Uganda’s first teachers’ union was formed in 1947 through an Act of Parliament. The Uganda Teachers Association metamorphosed into UNATU in March 2003 in compliance with the Trade Union Act of 1971.

In 2006, after aligning the laws with the Labour Unions Act, UNATU became a recognised national teachers’ labour union.

Chepkwurui says in 2011, there was a misunderstanding that resulted in some UNATU members walking away to form Uganda Liberal Teachers Union (ULITU).

“This was led by Kaganizo Mutesasira, formerly UNATU chairperson for Greater Bushenyi. However, they never officially registered it,” he discloses.

Wambi says the UNATU stand against pay rise for science teachers led to the creation of several factions such as National Mathematics and Science Teachers Union (NAMSTU), National Science Teachers Association (NASTA) led by Robert Kwizera and Uganda National Association of Science Teachers (UNAST) led by Aaron Mugaiga.

“By September 2019, the groupings had come together to form UPSTU,” Wambi says.

Current status

During the recent celebrations to mark this year’s World Teachers’ Day, President Museveni downplayed remarks made by UNATU general secretary Filbert Baguma about raising pay for all.

Baguma had expressed reservations on the decision to only increase science teachers’ pay, arguing that it would be better to make an increment for all. Baguma wondered whether the increment would not make administration difficult in a scenario where science teachers would earn more than headteachers who get a monthly pay of about sh2m.

“Continuous requests for better teacher remuneration have been made. We feel it is time to address the issue of across the board salary increase,” Baguma suggested. Museveni reminded the gathering at Kololo Independence Grounds on October 13 that despite him earning sh3m, some heads of government departments pay themselves much more yet his authority was not compromised.

Museveni said the decision to pay science teachers sh4m per month was in line with the Government’s efforts to create a firm base for the economy and growth in the era of science and information technology.

“If we don’t have enough money, what should we do? Why don’t we start with some that are most needed?” Museveni argued.

The President said as the country looks forward to science-based technological advancement, it may find it hard to replace science teachers who leave the profession over low pay.

Benison Tugume, the Ankole regional co-ordinator, says the membership of UPSTU stands at 3,255 in the area.

“The science teachers are looking at this union as the best way to teach UNATU a lesson for its indifference towards our plight. It is clear UNATU’s sole interest is the monthly deductions on our salaries,” Tugume says.

Paul Mwijuka, the school co-ordinator at Kyamuhunga Secondary School in Bushenyi district, says he was among UPSTU’s pioneer members from Ankole.

“As science teachers, we suffer with chemicals in laboratories which are harmful to our health. Some can even cause impotence, but when the Government wants to give us more money, UNATU stands in the way,” Mwijuka laments.

Herbert Beninze, a chemistry teacher at Kyamuhunga Secondary School in Bushenyi district, says he never consented to UNATU’s 1% monthly deduction from his salary.

“I just woke up one month only to see the UNATU deduction. They committed an illegality and proceeded to add insult to injury by blocking my pay rise,” Beninze says.

Aaron Mugaiga, the national UPSTU general secretary, says the union has close to 10,000 members nationwide.

“The number would be much higher had it not been for the interruptions caused by COVID-19 schools closure,” Mugaiga says.

On October 19, Patrick Muhereza, on behalf of the permanent secretary of public service ministry, handed over a recognition agreement to a UPSTU delegation led by Mugaiga.

Mugaiga says the agreement has opened doors for the science teachers union.

“We are now officially recognised and can do exactly what UNATU has been doing. This includes having our codes on members’ payslips, attending meetings as officials and advocating for the science teachers’ cause,” he says.

Baguma Speaks

Baguma says members of UPSTU have the right to associate. “The constitution of Uganda allows all Ugandans the freedom to associate.

They are free to do whatever they want,” Baguma says. He adds that even churches have cases of disunity, so teachers are not an exception. “The science union is entitled to their opinions about UNATU,” Baguma says.

He rubbishes claims that UNATU is for primary school teachers.

“Let them be straightforward and tell us what the real problem is. Then the can proceed to present their agenda and concerned teachers will choose either to follow them or us,” Baguma argues.

He attributes the standoff to having been triggered off by those who failed to lead in UNATU.

Baguma insists that UNATU is not opposed to the science teacher’s salary increment but to the discriminatory nature of the pay rise.

“You cannot give one category of teachers sh4m and sh1m to others, then expect good results,” Baguma argues. He says UNATU already has the structures in place and it would take UPSTU time to catch up.

“UNATU is a democratic union with establishments from institutional to national level. If a representative is not elected at school level then he or she cannot reach the national stage,” Baguma notes.

Challenges, Prospects for UPSTU

Mugaiga says some headteachers who are in the arts category are frustrating efforts of the Uganda Professional Science Teachers Union UPSTU team in registering new members.

Wambi says some prospective members had feared to join over worry that their salary may have a second deduction in addition to the one UNATU is already making.

“In fact, some teachers would register but decline to declare their registration as well as computer numbers. This makes it difficult to count them as members,” he says.

Charles Okon, a biology teacher at Banda Secondary School in Namayingo district, says district UNATU officials were threatening teachers over joining UPSTU.

“It is common knowledge that these have been working with district officials for long and using this relationship to instill fear. Some teachers were told once they join the rival union, they will automatically get deleted from the payroll,” Okon says.

Prospects

Mugaiga believes with the acquisition of the recognition agreement, the stage has been set for two parallel teachers’ unions to operate in Uganda.

“We approached Baguma in 2018 with our concerns about science teachers’ pay rise. Unfortunately, he refused to listen to us,” he says.

Mugaiga adds that the intention was simply to coerce UNATU to endorse the science teachers’ pay arising from a presidential directive.

“How do you expect us to work with UNATU when their leaders laughed at us, saying forming a trade union is not like taking a cup of tea?” he asks.

Science Teachers Speak Out

Wilbrod Rushokana, Biguli SS in Kamwenge

Wilbrod Rushokana

Sciences are taught at a great health risk to both teacher and student because of the chemicals used. So, if the Government wants to give us better pay and UNATU interferes, it gives us a good excuse to break away.

Joyce Amongin, St Francis School of the Blind-Madera in Soroti

Joyce Amongin

The operations of UNATU are questionable, especially the monthly 1% deduction. However, a rival union may not solve anything.

Baker Kasadha, Iganga district education officer:

Baker Kasadha

I hope teachers will put aside these divisions while in school and embrace teamwork to improve learning. When elephants fight, the grass (children) suffers

(This article was first published in the New Vision on Wednesday, October 3, 2021)

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