Unions representing civil servants and other public sector workers are up in arms again, protesting a decision by government to unilaterally postpone promised salary enhancements to the 2024/2025 financial year.
The pay rise deferment flies in the face of positions agreed between the unions and government under a 2018 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).
Now, dismayed member unions can only look back to when they signed the CBA with disappointment. In 2018, it had been agreed that salary increments would be staggered over five years, ending with the current 2022/2023 financial year.
But the Ministry of Public Service yesterday pleaded its inability to honour its obligations under the terms of the CBA, citing the difficult economic situation the country is grappling with.
“Enhancement, generally according to the budget, and economic conditions we are facing, will squarely be addressed in the next financial year of 2024/25, Mr Muruli Mukasa, the minister of Public Service, told this publication yesterday.
Mukasa also said discussions are underway with the unions to find a lasting solution to the salaries problem. He, however, did not indicate if all of the 10 unions which signed onto the CBA are participating in the reported talks.
What has further soured relations, with the workers now feeling betrayed, is arbitrary decision to defer the salary increments contrary to what was agreed under the 2018 settlement.
The CBA provides that “this agreement may be reviewed through mutual agreement by either party giving the other a three months’ notice.”
However, Mr Hassan Lwabayi Mudiba, secretary general of the Uganda Local Government Workers’ Union, points out that the unions were never consulted.
In a February 21 letter addressed to the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Public Service, members said failure to enhance their salaries has not only demoralised local government workers but has also undermined their working relationships.
They also note that relations have deteriorated amongst staff whose pay was not topped up under the government’s piecemeal approach which mainly rewarded ‘scientists’.
“This has caused others to just sit in office without commitment to work, while majority of them have chosen to be indifferent by either keeping quiet, coming late or leaving early. This is termed as silent strike, which is very dangerous to service delivery,” part of the petition states.
Under the 2018 agreement, government committed to increase salaries of public servants in a phased manner, ending with the 2022/2023 financial year.
That commitment has been turned on its head after the government, with President Museveni’s insistence, chose to increase salaries selectively, provoking strikes by disparate unions.
The agreement provides for a Pay Policy for the Public Service; increase in salaries without discrimination, including taking into account pay targets as agreed by both parties and a review of public sector salaries’ structure.
“There shall be no discrimination in pay and other terms and conditions of service and where they exist, the parties shall work towards its total elimination,” the agreement states.
However, in 2022/2023 financial year, government only raised salaries for scientists, creating wide disparities, an action which seriously undermined the principles of non-discrimination contained in the CBA.
These pay enhancements pushed the public sector wages and salaries bill for 2023/2024 financial year to Shs6.4 trillion, up from Shs6 trillion in 2021/2022.
The Shs6.4 trillion figure is a carry-over from the 2022/2023 financial year after the permanent secretary ministry of finance earlier communicated that there would be no pay-raise in 2023/2024 financial year, owing to the budget cuts.
Dr Ramadhan Ggoobi, whose portfolio includes being secretary to the treasury, also said there will be no new recruitments in the next financial year.
“Salary enhancement is suspended by one year (for FY 2023/2024) and implementation of the comprehensive salary enhancement plan will commence effective financial year 2024/2025,” he communicated.
Government workers have since protested this deferment.
Mr Mudiba also spoke of his union members’ frustration over the failure by the government to put in place a pay policy. He warned that pay disputes will persist if salaries are increased without addressing the historical weaknesses in the existing pay structures.
“You cannot pay people within the same salary structures different amounts. Government needs to harmonise this so that employees in the same pay grade get the same amount. Government must also address the gap between scientists and non-scientists because they perform similar administrative duties,” he said.
Other actions of the government have further left unions confused, especially the partial fulfilment of the CBA in favour of scientists and other selected public officers.
“It is offering a 77 percent increment but pushed ahead 2024/2025 financial year which has caused a mix-up — whether it is a revision of the current CBA or acting in total breach of the same,” Mr Mudiba said.
The selective pay raise has driven a wedge between scientists against their counterparts from the humanities.
The teachers have since split into science teachers union and arts unions, weakening the original Uganda National Teachers Union under which teachers always put up a united front.
Mr Usher Wilson Owere, the chairman general of the National Organisation of Trade Unions, the umbrella body of trade unions in the country, asked government to fulfil its part of the bargain.
“Government has not fully implemented this agreement and has been picking some parts for implementation. However, what I can say is that they need to sit down again with the public service unions because they really need this agreement and their money must be enhanced,” Mr Owere said.
Yesterday, Mr Muruli Mukasa remained optimistic, pointing out that “discussions have begun to see how the issue of enhancement can be sorted out”.
“Secondly, some of the people have been enhanced previously and that one cut across, including even local governments. So, it is not entirely accurate to say that local governments have been left out.
“It is certain sections of local government workers whose salaries have not been enhanced and those ones [will be addressed] definitely when the situation gets better, they will be attended to,” he said.
Mr Muruli Mukasa also said while the general enhancement has been pushed back by a year, some workers will receive enhanced pay in the coming financial year as earlier agreed.
“There was some enhancement that was agreed on, especially regarding the security forces and few other public servants when we said we should enhance the salaries of scientists and few others. A supplementary was raised and we are tying up these issues such that what was agreed on is now covered according to what was agreed on,” he said.
What govt study says
A study by commissioned by the head of public service and secretary to the Cabinet, Ms Lucy Nakyobe confirmed that huge pay disparities between ‘scientists and other cadres has created disharmony in government. For example, a head of department who is a scientist who was earning Shs3.1 million three years ago, now earns Shs10.6 million; while a counterpart who studied humanities and started with Shs1.9 million is still stuck at the same salary rate.
Principal and senior officers who are scientists who in 2020/21 earned Shs2.4 million and Shs2.3 million, respectively, now pocket Shs4.4 million and Shs4.25 million, respectively. Their arts counterparts bank Shs1.5 million and Shs1.1 million, respectively. Other officials who studied sciences and science teachers now earn Shs4 million. The arts group receive Shs940,366 and Shs1.1 million, respectively.
A diploma holder scientist earns Shs2.2 million while one who holds a diploma in humanities earns Shs784,000.
The trend continues up to the last cadre, with no clear definition of who qualifies to be a scientist and who does not.
At the base, a support staff who is an attendant or driver presumed to be a scientist earns Shs596,000 while the one presumed to be from arts earns Shs213,000. These only have a minimum qualification of Ordinary Level certificate, possibly with additional training as a driver or office attendant.
At this level, no one qualifies to be a scientist and it’s not clear what criteria government used to differentiate the two.
The report said while government has made efforts to enhance the pay of some categories of public officers, the 2022 pay enhancement widened the distortion not only in pay, but also in pension benefits.
The report also points out that there is no evidence to show performance improvement and productivity following the selective adjustments, and notes that service delivery depends of public officers working as a team (science people and those from a humanities background)..
“The disparities between pay of public officers in the traditional public service with that of public officers in semi-autonomous agencies of government also exists. Besides pay, there are other factors that are affecting the performance of public service, for example tools and equipment,” the report states.
The report also compares salaries in several countries in Africa.
The report says while an accountant in Uganda gets on average about $497 (Shs1.8m); in Kenya, on would earn $835 (Shs3.1m), while Zambia pays $195 (Shs732,000) for the same employee. A Ugandan economist gets $1,200 (Shs4.5m) while a Kenyan counterpart makes $1,878 (Shs7m) and an administrative officer in Uganda earns $388 (Shs1.4m) with the Kenyan counterpart getting $624 (Shs2.3m).
In other categories, the report says a Ugandan payroll officer on average gets $453 (Shs1.7m), while his or her Kenyan counterpart gets $720 (Shs2.7m). Nurses in Uganda and Kenya get $550 (Shs2m) and $900 (Shs3,3m), respectively, while doctors are at $1,800 (Shs6.7m) and $2,863 (Shs10.7m) respectively.
Public lawyers, police officers and prisons officers in Uganda earn $1,450 (Shs5.4m), $400 (Shs1.5m) and $300 (Shs1.1m), respectively while their Kenyan counterparts get $2,353 (Shs8.8m), $700 (Shs2.6m) and $500 (Shs1.8m), respectively.
What went wrong?
Failures in implementing the CBA in order to reflect present economic realities means that key personnel continue to wallow in poor pay. For instance, chief administrative officers (accounting officers in the districts) should be taking Shs15, million home. But they still earn Shs2.4 million.
A deputy director whose salary should have been Shs14.5 million by now is still earning Shs2 million; while commissioners, assistant commissioners and principal, down to the entry-level technical cadres who should be getting between Shs13 million and Shs14.5 million are still earning between Shs472,079 and Shs1.9 million.
The lowest support staff like office attendants should have been at Shs1.7 million but are firmly rooted at Shs187,660.
Also of concern is the salary disparities between government departments with people in the same salary bracket being paid differently, depending on which sector one is employed. For example, primary school teachers on U7 earn Shs568,000; a local government worker under same scale earns Shs377,000, while their counterparts in the medical section earn Shs1.4 million.