By Joan B.M. Asiimwe
A lot has been said since teachers started the strike at the beginning of the third term. I wish to applaud UNATU for taking on the Government to honour their promise of 20% that was promised last year.
I would also like to thank them for making everybody appreciate the role played by teachers in the country, which is quite often taken for granted.
As our ‘trade union’ goes ahead to get us the salary increase, I wish to request that they also consider discussing with the Ministry of Education and Sports teacher promotion especially in secondary schools, harmonising the salaries of those who upgraded, appointments, confirmations and ease access to retirement benefits for those who have diligently served the nation.
I pray that the Government and UNATU continue the dialogue so that an agreement is achieved before such a thing happens again. It was not only costly to the students, their parents, the community and the Government but also to the teachers themselves.
However, the Government can never have ‘enough’ money to pay its workers comfortably. Worldwide public servants are always clamouring for higher pay.
159,000 teachers or so can never get salary as good as an MP’s for example, yet we go to the same markets, shops, hospitals etc and above all, we would like to take our children to have a good education.
So, should we fold our arms, lament and blame the Government or should we practice and perfect our ‘striking skills’ as we brace for more strikes?
I believe the most practical and sustainable solution is micro-finance. We need to come together and take charge of our lives. On this note, I want to thank the Government for allocating sh5b for the teachers SACCOs.
This is a huge boost to our self-help initiative though it has generated a lot of excitement to unprecedented levels. But teachers, do you know that, if 50,000 teachers saved Sh.50,000 per month, we could have this money in two months? Then what about all of us including those in private schools, how much would we have and what could we do with this money?
The most crucial step we need to take is to change our mind set. Being a teacher does not confine you to the classroom and neither does it stop you from carrying out appropriate income generating activities that do not compromise your profession.
Even an extra sh100,000 is much more satisfying than the much coveted salary increase accompanied by threats and most likely tear gas!
Let us use what we have to get what we want. We need to selfishly (for teachers by teachers) come together under a savings and credit scheme where we can save and borrow for investment on our own terms.
This will enable us to access loans at very low interest rates and any other terms agreeable to us as teachers rather than running to commercial banks which only exploit us when we have the means to help ourselves.
In addition, there are many professional and social gaps we could fill by coming together. For example, some of us need to upgrade, we need refresher courses, scholarships for our children, preparing for retirement, building personal houses and many others.
Our vision at Uganda Teachers’ Cooperative, Savings and Credit Union is to, in the near future, form our own bank which we shall call Teacher Bank Uganda Limited.
Otherwise, the strike has been suspended but I am sure we have not seen the end of this. 20% or even 100% later, we shall still “want some more”. And remember, ‘he who pays the piper, calls the tune’.
Let us come together and ‘our lives will be secured’.
The writer is the chairperson of the Uganda Teachers’ Cooperative, Savings and Credit Union