Non-teaching university staff put pay strike on hold

Public universities in Uganda have resumed full operation after several weeks of industrial action. Non-teaching staff had laid down their tools citing low pay and anger over government action to raise lecturer salaries but not theirs.

The strikers protested that they had been discriminated against by not being given a pay rise, despite operating under similar conditions to academics. There are around 4,000 non-teaching staff in Uganda’s six public universities.

Effective last month, President Yoweri Museveni directed that all public university lecturers should receive a salary increase.

The government allocated UGX50 billion (US$13.7 million) in the 2015-16 national budget, which pushed the salaries for lecturers in public universities from an average of UGX4.1 million (US$1,126) to UGX6.3 million (US$1,730) per month.

The strike

On 3 August members of the umbrella Public Universities Non-Teaching Staff Executive Forum, or PUNTSEF, went on strike, demanding an immediate pay rise. Two weeks into the strike, non-teaching staff defied a government order to report for work.

Jackson Betihamah, chair of PUNTSEF, complained that the president was favouring one group in universities over another. He said non-teaching staff would not work unless government committed to increasing pay.

In late August, however, PUNTSEF said members had resolved to suspend the industrial action for a month during negotiations with the government and other stakeholders, to find a lasting solution without affecting the normal progress of public universities. They also have a chance to meet with the president.

A total of UGX31.6 billion (US$8.7 million) was required from the government for non-teaching staff to call off the strike, and the union cautioned that if the negotiations failed to bear fruit, industrial action would be resumed.

“This discrimination is divide and rule. Even if we do different things our activities are intertwined. A university cannot function if we are not motivated,” Dr Baine Mugisha, manager of the quality assurance department at Makerere University, told University World News.

She said the move by the government breached the National Employment Act and international labour laws. At Makerere, Mugisha added, non-teaching staff last got a salary rise in 2006.

Not paying taxes

There is a point that unites both teaching and non-teaching staff in some public universities, and it is the underfunding of higher education. Some universities have resorted to drastic behaviour.

At Makerere University, for example, administrators did remit employee contributions to the National Social Security Fund. Under the NSSF Act, Section 11 (1), every employer should remit to the fund 10% of total wages paid per month, within 15 days.

The Auditor General unearthed an anomaly at Makerere for the 2013-14 financial year.

Appearing before parliament’s public accounts committee on 5 August, Makerere University Acting Secretary Charles Barugahare confessed that money had been deducted from the payroll but not remitted. Rather, it was diverted to fund other priorities due to limited funds.

Legislator Alice Alaso, chair of the public accounts committee, concluded that the university should not receive any more taxpayers’ money since it was not able to properly handle funds.