Trickle of late payments may not be enough to avert a strike

Although the Cameroon government has begun paying the research allowances of university lecturers from 30 March, a few weeks after the lecturers announced their plans to embark on a possible strike in June 2022, many are still waiting for the money to land in their bank accounts.

On 12 April, Professor James Arrey Abangma, the head of the Buea chapter of the National Union of Higher Education Teachers, or SYNES-UB, told University World News that some lecturers eligible for payment have started to receive their allowances, but that others were still waiting. The union is known by the French acronym, SYNES or Syndicat National des Enseignants de l’Enseignement Supérieur.

In March, the union announced an indefinite strike in eight universities beginning in June 2022 over unpaid benefits. The payment of research allowances, theses supervision fees and other outstanding debts, were part of the grievances raised by university lecturers.

The release of allowance payments has been seen as the government’s attempt to avert a strike action by teachers in the higher education sector, which could disrupt classes. A strike by secondary school teachers demanding better working conditions forced educational activities to a standstill for several weeks in February and March.

On 30 March, newly recruited teachers, a group who have been identified by the ministry as one of three categories of lecturers who will receive payment, took turns at the ministry of higher education to get their research dues.

Dr Busi Ernest Neba is an assistant lecturer at the University of Buea’s department of educational psychology. He stood in line with his documents to collect his allowance.

“It’s quite challenging, and needs a lot of perseverance. You will stay there for a long time before you are called. You write your name on pieces of paper, and you have to be called one after the other. It just entails a lot of patience and sacrifice,” he told University World News.

Before anyone could receive their money, “every document has to be checked, to see whether they are okay. Officials in the ministry have to ensure that they check the contracts and everything, to see that those collecting are eligible to collect.”

Poor decentralisation mechanisms

Some argue that the process of collecting the research bonuses is too demanding. All the newly recruited teachers were obliged to travel from faraway regions of the country to the ministry in the country’s capital, Yaoundé, just to collect their dues.

“The process of travelling from Buea to Yaoundé; Bamenda to Yaoundé; Ngaoundere to Yaoundé; Maroua to Yaoundé; from Douala University to Yaoundé, is a very cumbersome journey … It’s a very complex process,” said Neba.

According to Dr Nick Ngwanyam, an educationalist who runs a private university in Cameroon, the government’s payment strategy is not ideal. He notes that having teachers travel long distances for research allowances is the result of “bad governance”.

“People don’t think things through,” he told University World News, adding that “all they are interested in, is looking at their paperwork and [they] do not really look at the big picture.

“I guess they want everybody to come there, sign some papers and take money, but the time wasted, the risk of travelling, the cost of travelling, is not factored in. By the time you remove that from what they are going to take, very little is left. So, it’s just bad management and bad governance. That’s all,” said Ngwanyam.

The teachers are urging the government to consider decentralising the payment scheme to the account centres of their various universities, to cushion the risks involved in travelling.

Some feel left out

In a Facebook post on 30 March, the ministry of higher education said: “Regarding former beneficiaries of this allowance [lecturers who are already in service and form another category of beneficiaries who will be paid], the [bank] transfers will begin on 1 April, 2022.”

However, some lecturers who fall under this category complain that they are yet to receive their research allowances.

“There are many people who have confessed to me that they have not yet received [their allowances],” SYNES-UB’s Abangma said.

Faced with such a situation, the executive bureau of SYNES will likely communicate as to whether or not the strike planned for June will continue.

“We have not received, so it is the national executive that has to take a decision again,” Abangma said.

This news report was updated on 16 April.