Ugandan teachers suspend strike after promise over pay

Reuters

By Elias Biryabarema

KAMPALA (Reuters) - Ugandan teachers suspended a strike for higher pay on Wednesday after the government pledged to meet their 20 percent pay raise demand at a time of strained resources after Western donors cut off direct budget support over corruption claims.

The teachers stopped working on September 16 as schools opened for this year's last school term. They accused the government of failing to keep a promise to raise their pay, which ranks among the lowest in the east African country's public sector.

The government has struggled to meet spending commitments since big Western donors including Britain, Uganda's biggest bilateral source of aid, suspended support late last year after allegations that $13 million worth of relief had been embezzled.

In July, it emerged that tens of thousands of public workers including teachers and police officers had not received their pay for months.

"The government has asked us to give them one month to look for the money to meet our demand," said Winnie Namata of the Uganda National Teachers Union (UNATU). "So the union's leadership has met today and we have decided to give them that time and subsequently took a decision to suspend the strike."

Veteran President Yoweri Museveni previously said his government had no money to raise teachers' pay because it was channeling most funds to transport and energy infrastructure.

Critics, though, say much of the money that would be used to pay a decent wage to teachers and other underpaid public workers is stolen or wasted by officials. The government denies this.

Corruption is widespread in Uganda and government critics say it has thrived mostly because of what they say is Museveni's reluctance to punish thieving but loyal officials.

(Editing by James Macharia and Mark Heinrich)

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