, 17 July, 2020 / 11:03 PM
Catholic Bishops in the East African nation of Uganda have announced their decision to “temporarily suspend payment” of staff in Catholic schools, citing the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on the education sector.
“As we continue to battle with COVID-19 pandemic that is affecting our country and the world over, and more especially the Education sector, we kindly advise you to temporarily suspend payments of your staff in our private schools,” the National Executive Secretary for Education of the Uganda Episcopal Conference (UEC), Fr. Ronald Okello has said in a letter signed July 13 and circulated Friday, July 17.
In the one-page letter, Fr. Ronald directs Diocesan and Archdiocesan Education Secretaries "to notify your staff and mutually agree on unpaid leave especially those on active contracts."
To avoid penalties of statutory deductions, the Education Secretary also advises the management of the affected schools to write to the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) and the National Social Security Fund (NSSF), notifying them of the suspension of payments.
“This is because we are not sure when schools shall be (re)opened for our learners,” he adds.
Most of the Catholic schools are run on charity and money paid by learners in the form of school fees, funds that have been unavailable for more than four months, leaving the church leadership with no other alternatives to keep the payroll running, the Ugandan Cleric has explained.
Even before Fr. Ronald’s directive, the leadership of Uganda’s Masaka Diocese had already notified teachers in its jurisdiction about the inability of the Diocese to continue paying them and urged the Catholic schools’ management to reach out to the affected teachers with relief.
Education institutions in the East African landlocked country have remained closed since March 18, as a move to curb the spread of COVID-19 pandemic, which has so far infected at least 1,051 people with 1,014 of them having recovered. The country has not recorded any related death.
The Catholic Church in the country owns over 6,000 education institutions, which offer employment to thousands of people.
The move by the Catholic Bishops to suspend staff remuneration in their schools comes two months after the leadership of the country’s Ministry of Education and Sports directed all private education institutions to pay their employees during the pandemic, a move contested by owners of private schools.
“This is, therefore, to remind you that you are required to pay your employees during the lockdown period in accordance with the Employment Act and as per the agreed employment contracts,” the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education and Sports, Alex Kakooza wrote in a May 18 circular to Directors, Proprietors and Heads of educational institutions.
In response, private school owners, through their representative, Hasadu Kirabira stated, “Companies have laid off their workers. Some are paying half their salary. The situation is not normal. You can’t come out to dictate. We are struggling to cope. When you bring restrictions, we don’t understand. The government has our money. We have been paying taxes. This is the time to pay us back.”
To cushion the teachers from the impact of job loss, owners of private schools, through their body, the National Private Education Institutions Association (NPEIA), have been urging the government to pay the salaries of the affected teachers for at least a year, particularly if there are no plans to reopen institutions of learning.
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