Saturday, 10 August 2013

Makerere lays off 600 staff

MUASA general secretary, Frank Tumwine reads a statement at a recent convention of the Association members.
MUASA general secretary, Frank Tumwine reads a statement at a recent convention of the Association members.

In Summary
Address grievances. The National Organisation of Trade Unions is demanding that the process of terminating staff at the university be halted and a meeting convened to address their grievances.

For 24 years, Frederick Senyonjo has known Makerere University Agricultural Research Institute, Kabanyolo as his workplace. But to his surprise, he was asked to hand in all university property in three days last month, after which he was told he had to leave.
He is one of about 600 temporary staff who have worked at the institution for more than 10 years and now must find other means to make ends meet. “When all of a sudden I am told to leave without a warning, I don’t understand what they mean. I have been working well and have children I pay school fees for. We just saw a circular that they no longer need our services,” Mr Senyonjo said in an interview.
Ms Mary Tizikara, the institution’s director for human resources, wrote on July 2 to all staff saying: “The university management decided that staff, whose temporary contracts expired on, or earlier than June 30, should not be renewed.”
Senyonjo’s appointment was in 1989 and has since been renewed after every six months. However, the Employment Act 2006 states that a person shall not be employed as a casual labourer for a period exceeding four months and where it happens, the person will be entitled to a written contract and all benefits enjoyed by the rest of the employees.
According to Senyonjo, though, he has worked all these years without any staff benefits. Like his colleagues, it is also not clear how they ended up on the government payroll. They now want an official communication before termination of their work since they are paid by Public Service.
Workers’ union chairperson, Mr Bernard Ayebazibwe, concurs. He explains that the union has agreed that the more than 80 per cent of workers affected shall continue working because they are paid by government, not the university. “If we have worked this long and they feel we should leave, it should be official and with a package. Why don’t they regularise us? We want a letter from Public Service telling us to leave,” Mr Ayebazibwe said.
The Vice Chancellor, Prof John Ddumba-Ssentamu, however, supported management’s move, saying the university is trying to streamline the recruitment process which they found wanting. “Running contracts whose expiry date is beyond June 30 are not affected. Employees are on the government payroll for as long as they have a running contract with the university,” Prof Ssentamu told Saturday Monitor.
This means that staff whose contracts expire cease to appear on the government payroll. However, this has received criticism. Mr Peter Werikhe, the National Organisation of Trade Unions secretary general observed that the university management has been recovering National Social Security Fund from the staff but not remitting it to their accounts. “We are demanding that an NSSF audit be immediately commissioned to establish the liability of the staff,” Mr Werikhe said.
Efforts to engage management have yielded no fruit but Mr Mugula Kamya, commissioner for labour industrial relations and productivity in the Ministry of Gender, wrote to Prof Ssentamu on July 5 advising that the university follows the law as they move to streamline the staffing gaps. “Settle this matter to the satisfaction of the complainants or I shall, among others, evoke the powers conferred upon me,” reads part of the letter.
Responding to this newspaper’s e-mail questions, Prof Ssentamu denied allegations that the university has not been remitting staff NSSF funds. He, however, asked those affected to contact management. On the issue of recruitment, he said it was a transparent process.