With public servants increasingly threatening industrial action as a way to demand better pay, the Ugandan government has said it will only negotiate with unions and not workers’ associations.
This decision will exclude some civil servants. The government said the workers’ unions have a legal mandate that the associations don’t.
The government has a budget of Ush3.6 trillion ($974.6 million) to pay about 400,000 employees annually, but a large amount of this money is used to pay top cadres.
David Karubanga, Minister of State for Public Service, said associations make unreasonable demands or demand time lines that are impossible to implement. Trade unions are more reasonable, he said.
“Associations have hijacked the role of trade unions and they are compromising service delivery,” said Mr Karubanga.
There is an ongoing strike by doctors and public prosecutors. Makerere University lecturers association will meet on November 17 to decide whether to take industrial action.
Unequal pay structure
Uganda has an unequal pay structure, with the highest paid government official earning 277 times more than the lowest paid worker. The highest paid government workers also get huge allowances.
Ekwaro Obuku from the Uganda Medical Association (UMA) pointed out that money for politicking is always raised.
The government has for the past three weeks raised and distributed a total of Ush13 billion ($3.5 million) to Members of Parliament, while another Ush5.5 billion ($1.5 million) was given to National Resistance Movement leaders to popularise the removal of the age limit clause from the Constitution.
According to Dr Obuku, if the government can raise money this quickly for political issues, the same should be done to raise money for medical workers’ remuneration and supplies like drugs, gloves, boots and maintenance of health facilities.
The government also wants the health monitoring unit disbanded, saying it is undermining the work of the Uganda Medical and Dental Practitioners Council. The health monitoring unit is an agency that was established by President Yoweri Museveni.
David Baxter Bakibinga, President of the Association of prosecutors said the move to only allow workers’ unions to call for a strike is illegal and discriminatory.
Mr Bakibinga said registering a union requires a group to have 1,000 workers, while there are not that many prosecutors. However, he said associations have called for strikes at a time when the unions, which follow the law, are still waiting for the salary review commission.
“Normally, trade unions give a warning, but the current industrial actions are being pushed by association leaders who are championing personal interests,” said Mr Karubanga.
He added that the unions also involve people who are not government workers. The UMA strike saw intern doctors lay down their tools as well.
According to the Minister of Health, Jane Ruth Aceng, intern doctors shouldn’t be striking, as they are students with no government contract.
“Intern donors are trainee doctors who are not in formal employment and therefore are paid an allowance and not a salary, they will continue to be paid the same allowance of last year,” Ms Aceng said in a statement.
Senior house officers (doctors doing their post graduating training) have also laid down their tools under UMA, yet not all are government employees.
The government employs just 2,300 doctors to treat a population of 38 million, so the interns fill the gap especially at Mulago National Referral hospital.
The intern doctors are demanding housing and an increase in allowances, something that government will not be able to solve through the salary review commission.
The commission is supposed to figure out a salary structure, given that the total wage bill of a few workers under the statutory bodies is more than what is paid to the public service.
“The statutory agencies, which employ about 8,000 workers, have a wage bill that is much more than the rest of the civil service employees,” said Enock Twinoburyo, an economist.
Salary review report
But Mr Karubanga disputes this claim. With a group of 8,000 statutory workers having a total wage bill that is higher than the over 300,000 civil servants, the salary review commission faces a huge task.
A source who asked for anonymity told The EastAfrican that the huge differences in salaries is the reason the salary review commission report is yet to be released.
“Employees of statutory employees earning much more than officials in the civil service is something that the salary commission is yet to resolve,” says a public service official who preferred anonymity.
According to the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Matia Kasaija, the plan is to have the highest paid government worker earning not more than 10 times the amount paid to the least paid employee.
This would mean the government will either significantly increase salaries of public servants or effect massive salary reductions. Bank of Uganda Governor Emmanuel Tumusiime-Mutebile, the highest-paid government official, earns 277 times more than the lowest paid civil servants.
But to reduce Prof Mutebile’s salary, for example, the government would have to wait until January 2021 as most statutory body workers have contracts of between three and seven years. In the case of parliament, which also has one of the best paid employees, remuneration is determined by the MPs themselves.
According to Dr Aceng, the government is counting on the salary review commission to find a lasting solution to the inequality in remuneration in the public service.