Late Payment or No Payment: the Dilemma of Makerere Contract Staff Top story

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In short
As Makerere holds its 67th graduation ceremony next week, there are questions about the treatment of contract staff involved in the day to day academic life of the university.

As Makerere holds its 67th graduation ceremony next week, there are questions about the treatment of contract staff involved in the day to day academic life of the university.

Makerere will hold its graduation ceremonies between February 21 and February 24, but over 150 prospective graduands at the Department of Planning and Applied Statistics barely made it to the list.
 
The students, whose department is housed in the School of Statistics in the College of Business and Management Sciences (CoBAMS), were until a week ago not accessing their complete results to be cleared for graduation. The impasse was created by David Opiro, a former lecturer who had refused to submit marks and examination scripts over non-payment of his salary and other incentives.
  
Makerere owes Opiro over 11 million shillings and he had refused to submit students' marks and scripts to the department head, Dr James Wokadala, demanding the university pay him first. He thought to use these scripts as a bargaining chip to have his incentive and salary arrears cleared.  He had taught three course units between February and May 2015, during the second semester of 2014/2015 academic year.
  
Between September 2010 and June 2016, Opiro was employed as a Teaching Assistant on contract basis. As a teaching assistant he taught, supervised and marked students until his contract expired.
  
When students pilled pressure on the university management seeking explanation as to why Opiro had disappeared with their marks, the latter went mute for months before coming out to explain that the said lecturer was not a university employee. As result, the university administration distanced itself from Opiro and blamed Dr Wokadala, the department head for "irregularly hiring" the former and giving him students' scripts.
  
Threats and suspensions
 
On January 27, the deputy vice chancellor, Prof Ernest Okello Ogwang, in a letter to the university security officer Jackson Mucunguzi, asked police to arrest Opiro for refusal to submit students' marks. On January 30, the vice chancellor Prof John Ddumba Ssentamu suspended Dr Wokadala. "After your interaction with the appointments board on January 30, 2017 and your failure to explain why you hired Mr Opiro and having irregularly given him students scripts; I have decided to suspend you immediately," Prof Ddumba's letter reads in part.
  
Prof Ddumba set conditions for negotiations: "Should you manage to retrieve the scripts from Mr Opiro by mid Thursday, February 2, 2017, the suspension will be lifted. In the event that marks and scripts are not recovered, the affected students shall be given a special examination on Friday, February 3, 2017 which will be marked on the same day to enable the students graduate..."
  
Negotiations
  
On February 1, negotiations kicked off between Opiro's lawyers of Kenneth Akampurira Advocates and Solicitors and the university legal director Goddy Muhumuza.  Opiro's lawyer on February 2 informed the university management that their client was a duly employed contract staff between September 2010 and June 2016 and the university never objected.
 
The lawyers argued that contradictions arose after the university failed to pay Opiro. "He has since asserted his right to be paid for work done pursuant of his employment contract by making several demands for his salary, incentives and other allowances including marking and supervision arrears for which he levied an alien on the examination scripts and marks in order to demand outstanding payment totalling to sh 11,082,000…," the letter to university management reads in part.
  
On February 4, the two parties signed an agreement to end the stalemate. Opiro accepted to submit students' results and the university accepted to pay salary and incentive arrears. The university also agreed to rescind its threat to have Opiro arrested. The students' scripts were submitted to the office of legal director on the same day.
 
"The first party (Makerere University) undertakes to pay the second party (David Opiro) all genuine, outstanding and verified claims and entitlements upon receipt of the handover report pursuant to the first party's contract of employment," the agreement reads in part.
 
 "For avoidance of doubt, the first party shall pay to the second party the February 2016 salary arrears together with the incentives for the month of November 2015 to March 2016 within 30 days from the date of execution of this undertaking while the rest of incentive payment shall be paid at the same time when other university staff shall be paid the said incentive."
  
Opiro's dilemma illuminates difficulties that Makerere University contract staff sails through to get paid and have their contract renewed. On January 18, after a year negotiating for better working conditions, Directorate for Information, communication and technology support (DICTS) employees who are in charge of maintaining internet connectivity around the university, switched off internet for a day to tilt negotiations in their favour.
  
They reconnected internet after the vice chancellor accepted to look into their demands; chiefly expeditiously renewing their contracts and paying their salary and incentive arrears. When contacted, DICTS staff declined to speak out. However, URN understands that almost all DICTS staffs are contract employees.
  
Prof Barnabas Nawangwe, the deputy vice chancellor for finance and administration, said the issue of DICTS is historical. He explained that when the unit was established in 2000, its salary structure could not fit within the university payroll structure because Makerere could not attract staff to man that unit at salary rates of those days.
 
"DICTS grievances have been addressed by restructuring which we hope council will approve soon. Once that is done, DICTS will be incorporated in the university structure where all their staff will be recruited on full time and put on payroll," he said.
 
There are two classes of employees at Makerere University; permanent staff and contract staff. Permanent staffs are paid by government (60%) and Makerere (40%) while contract staffs are fully paid by the university from internally generated revenue.
  
Contract staffs encounter difficulties when demanding payment of their allowances and having contracts renewed. Contracts of these employees range from six months to three years. Contract employees who spoke to URN intimated that for instance, when their contracts expire; the university management takes months before renewing them.
  
Contract staff are further categorised into two groups; those employed by the central management and those employed by different units - colleges, schools and departments.
  
The university facts book, an annual publication 2015/16 edition titled "Tracking the performance of the Makerere University Strategic plan 2008/9-2015/16" shows that Makerere had 171 academic contract staff at the end of June 2016. But these are only contract staff recognised by the university central system. Prof Nawangwe says the total number of contract staff is estimated at 300. Contract staffs are more pronounced in the College of Education and External Studies, College of Business and Management Sciences, College of Information Technology and Computing and in the Academic Registrar's department.
  
 "I worked for four months before my contract was renewed. When it was renewed, they did not pay me allowances for those months and I know they may never pay me because some of my colleagues receive the same treatment," a contract staff administrator in the School of Social Sciences told URN on condition of anonymity. The administrator says the university has been giving him a one-year contract for the past four years, with requests for full-time employment often turned down.
  
But Bruce Kabasa, the university appointments board chairperson, argues that contract renewal is a lengthy process because of different power players within the university. He adds that a one year contract is short and can expire before the renewal process is completed.
  
"The problem with Makerere is that there are many power fielders. The final power centre in the renewal of contract is the appointments board. But the board can only renew a contact after receiving feedback from the College appointments board and establishment board. Once the College Board has not brought the matter, appointments board can't get out of the blue and renew the contract," Kabasa said.
  
Prof Nawangwe explains that some contract staff assumes that contracts are extended automatically which is not the case. Before renewing contracts, according to Prof Nawangwe, colleges must prove that there is workload to be covered.
  
"Contracts are not renewed automatically, they must apply for their contract to be renewed or extended. If they eventually apply, there are certain processes that must be undertaken. For example the human resource office must ascertain that a person has work to do and he is needed by the college," Prof Nawangwe said.
  
On the issue of delayed or no payments, Kabasa says salary claims for contract staff claims are generated at college units and late payments arise when colleges submit salary claims for their contract staff late. He adds that some contract staff lecturers claim "salary for hours that a human being can't work" and such claims are contested by management resulting into delayed payment.
  
Does Makerere need contract staff?
 
Makerere University non-teaching staff chairperson, Bruce Twesigye, argues that the university should think about phasing out contract employees. He says the university human resource manual should be updated to create permanent staff positions in colleges and departments where necessary. Twesigye argues that phasing out contract employees will help Makerere to save money spent on their remunerations and allowances.
  
"If you have an established position, why can't you fill it substantively because government pays 60 percent of the needed salary?" Twesigye inquires.
 
Kabasa says Makerere has had contract staff since time immemorial and it's not possible to have all contract staff phased out. He argues that if a lecturer goes on study or sabbatical leave, the university must employ another person to take up his workload. He also said there are lecturers who refuse to be put on permanent staff payroll.
  
"In the rules of the university, anybody who is above the age of 50 can only serve on the contract. The contract can only two years renewable so every two years, you repeat the same process. Also if you're a professor or associate professor above 60 years, you can only get a two or three year contract which must be renewed continuously," Kabasa said.
  
Prof Nawangwe revealed that the university is already scrutinising lecturers' workload to ascertain if they can further reduce the number of contract staff.
  
"The colleges submitted their workloads which are being reviewed by the appointments' board and if it is found that workloads in the unit can be handled by the permanent staff, contract staff will be removed," Prof Nawangwe said. 
  
But these arguments seem to contradict findings of the Auditor General's report for the year ending June 2015. The report talks of major staffing gaps in the academic and administrative staff structure.
  
"Out of 2,774 established academic positions, only 1,333 (48%) are filled, leaving a staffing gap of 1,441 positions (52%). In addition, says the Auditor General, the university established 554 positions for administrative staff, but only 168 (30%) are filled, leaving 383 positions vacant.