Salary dispute: Professors call off strike for the moment

A strike by professors and lecturers in South Sudan’s five public universities has been called off for now after President Salva Kiir Mayardit directed the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning to release unpaid salaries according to an older payment scale.

But university leaders have been consulting with academics to determine whether the intervention is adequate to quell their dissatisfaction and, based on reports from students on some campuses, their lecturers were absent since 10 April, the day the strike was scheduled to start.

A senate meeting at the University of Juba resolved on 12 April that the offer was “not good enough” and gave the ministry two weeks to pay them what they believe they are due.

Awengdit Demkeer, a student at the University of Juba, told University World News via Messenger on 11 April: “I am here at Juba University. I think there is something cooking within the university administration, since I have not seen any lecturers in my college today. It could be the beginning of what may follow as a strike – in case the promise is not fulfilled.”

A statement in which staff outlined the reasons for the planned strike was issued by the University of Juba of 4 April.

The board of deans blamed the ministry of finance’s failure to pay staff an “adjusted unified salary structure for academic and non-academic staff in public institutions for higher learning as approved by the Council of Ministers”.

The Upper Nile University issued a similar statement on 5 April.

The three other functioning public universities in South Sudan are the Dr John Garang Memorial University of Science and Technology, Rumbek University of Science and Technology and the University of Bahr El-Ghazal.

But, in response to the notices, the president, who is also the chancellor of all public universities, has ordered the payment of February and March salary arrears and allowances to all public universities based on the older salary scale as indicated on the presidency’s official Facebook page on 7 April.

Academic community responds

Professor John Akec, the vice- chancellor of the University of Juba, told University World News: “University leaders will consult with staff representatives or associations to get the buy-in. Only then can we conclude if the problem has been completely resolved.

“Something is better than nothing. So, in a way it is a partial win for universities and even a greater victory for the ministry of finance if accepted by universities,” Akec added.

But Akec warned that the offer would amount to a 57% reduction in what was due to university staff.

“I am sure the immediate strike is averted. In the medium to long term, however, universities may ask for a review of the offer…” he said.

Although the academics’ salary structures have changed to provide for increases in 2019 and again in 2023, the depreciation of the national currency against the US dollar means that improved salaries lose value before they are paid, Akec pointed out.

Student views

Beny Chagay Matet, a student at Bahr el Ghazal University, told University World News via Messenger: “The exams were disturbed and delayed, which may indicate that there is still an internal strike as the teaching staff members are still not happy.”

Willson Wek Pei and AW Gatluak, students at the University of Juba, told University Word News they were grateful about the progress.

Wek Pei was optimistic that the dispute would be resolved and remaining points solved via dialogue between the academic community and the presidential office.

Gatluak said the student community was glad the presidential office was dealing with the problem to prevent disturbances during the academic year and at exams, which might push students to the streets, demanding their right to education.

“However, the president should not have to act under the coercion of industrial action. The ministry concerned should have been aware of the urgency of the matter. Teachers across the world are very important to nation-building. Everyone is well aware that the civil servants across the country are not being paid on time and this must stop if the government means business,” Gatluak pointed out.