As over 160,000 government teachers in Uganda marked the World Teachers Day on 5th October, UNATU reportedly declared it a day of “mourning” for Ugandan teachers since there was nothing to toast about.
As a result of poor pay, over 84% of them are considering abandoning the profession within the next two years according to a source within the Ministry of Education. Approximately 10,000 teachers are resigning annually from service. Teacher absenteeism is also one of the highest in the World at over 35% and marginalized areas like Northern Uganda, having Kaabong Senior Secondary School as a sample continue to have teachers who have never been considered to enter the pay roll.
The plight of Ugandan teachers is a harrowing one. Despite the recent strike which has since been suspended for 28 days as government and UNATU engage in discussions on whether government is to pay the 20% increment effective January 2014 during which all teachers arrears of July-December 2013 are to be reflected or switch the 15% salary increment to 2013/14 FY and the 20% to 2014/15 FY, the situation still remains pretty the same.
Should these talks fail, teachers strike is set to resume on November 10th.
In Uganda, a primary teacher continues to earn Shs 370,000 a month before tax, Secondary teacher earns around Shs 500,000 before tax, and a tutor earns Shs 550,000 before tax. There are no much allowances to write home about.
According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, the average monthly household income is Shs 660,000 in urban areas and Shs 222,000 in rural areas.
The big question has always been why do we continue to look down on our teachers whenever they seek better terms of service? Do we even care about the state of public education in the country?
The government continues to insist that the priority in the 2013/14 FY is on developing infrastructure and the energy sector-electricity, oil & gas. But these have always been and will always continue to be priorities because they are the drivers of the economy. Hence, it should not be used as an excuse of not remunerating the public service better.
In fact, close scrutiny of the trend of government expenditure as far as education is concerned is worrying. Over the last 12 years, the share of the budget to the sector has been declining. In 1997/98 FY, 24% was allocated. In 1999/2000 FY, it dropped to 22%. In 2005/06 FY, it dropped further to 21%. In 2013/14 FY, it drastically declined to under 15%.
By giving teachers the 20% increment (140 billion), the country’s wage bill is expected to hit the 30% mark of the GDP and is feared that it might raise inflation and general cost of living. It should be noted that the 30% would still be below the global wage threshold of 40% GDP.
As excuses continue to be piled up, teachers like any other Ugandan have to pay bills. They have families to take care of and children to educate. Never mind we always urge them to “save” and “invest” to generate “side income”.
We have come to a point where we must agree that an increase of the wage per se might not just be the solution. What we need is a living wage which is dictated by prevailing costs of living. This should be what a household needs to survive and live a decent life.
A salary increase is irrelevant and rather exploitative if it does not translate into stronger purchasing power due to factors such as inflation.
Otherwise, what sense does it make when government increases the salaries, then introduces an array of taxes on consumer goods to realize more revenue to cater for the increment?
To arrive at a living wage, there is urgent need to review salaries of all government workers through a salaries commission mandated to review salaries of all workers either higher or lower.
This way, our wage bill might not necessarily have to shoot through the roof and there will be an opportunity to do justice in terms of remuneration to all the other professions in civil service.