Uganda teachers strike, activists urge more protests

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Ugandan teachers went on strike over low salaries and demanded a 100 percent pay rise to go back to work, a senior union official said, the latest in a spate of protests to grip the east African nation.

The government of east Africa’s third largest economy has blamed drought and high global energy prices for soaring consumer prices, which pushed the rate of inflation to 15.8 percent in June, and prompted Ugandans from taxi drivers to local traders to protest against a record-low shilling.

Ssensamba Gonza, the Uganda National Teachers Union’s (UNATU) national secretary, told Reuters a meeting of the executive decided late on Wednesday to stop teaching from Thursday, Reuters reports.
“We’re fed up with the ridiculous lies of this government regarding the slave wages they pay teachers,” Gonza said.
“So we took a decision yesterday evening to withhold our labour until the government increases our salaries by 100 percent.”

Teachers in Uganda, estimated to number 160,000, are among the worst paid civil servants in the country and years of demands for pay rises have been rejected by the government.

Gonza said a primary teacher earned, on average, 250,000 shillings ($96) per month, while a secondary school teacher received about 450,000 shillings.

Anger over food and fuel prices came to a head when opposition-led demonstrations across the country in April and May provoked a government crackdown in which nine people were killed on the worst day, according to Human Rights Watch, and hundreds were wounded.

Activists for Change, the group that organised the last demonstrations, dubbed ‘walk to work’, said they planned a resumption of civil disobedience actions from next month.

The group called on motorists to leave their cars at home and commuters to walk to work instead of using public transport but it was unclear whether protest leader Kizza Besigye would participate in this round of strikes.

His presence would galvanise discontent over prices and fire up a protest campaign that has lost momentum in the last two months.

Anne Mugisha, deputy foreign secretary for Forum for Democratic Change, the largest opposition party, told Reuters the activists had invited Besigye to join the next round of ‘walk to work’ but “whether he actually does take part will ultimately be his decision”.

Gonza said a UNATU delegation was due to meet Museveni later on Thursday to try to reach a compromise. Government officials could not be reached for comment.

Museveni has in the past ruled out a pay raise for teachers, arguing his administration was prioritising infrastructure and energy as the country seeks to become a top 50 oil producer.