Law dons at Makerere University have jointly weighed in on the ongoing staff strike, advising the Vice Chancellor’s decision to suspend the three Association leaders was unlawful and unconstitutional. They have advised the Vice Chancellor to withdraw the suspensions.
The strike by staff, both academic and administrative at Makerere entered its tenth day on Monday. They demand among other things the lifting of the suspension of Dr Deus Kamunyu Muhwezi who is the Chairman of Makerere University Academic Staff Association (MUASA).
Dr Muhwezi was suspended over two weeks ago by the university Vice Chancellor, Prof Barnabas Nawangwe for misconduct.
Nawangwe wrote to Dr Muhwezi suspending him with immediate effect for persistently engaging in acts of misconduct and incitement with the intent to cause disobedience and strikes.
Prof Nawangwe further accused Dr Muhwezi of; engaging in acts that bring the university and university officials into disrepute, intimidation of university officials, using abusive and/or insulting language, slander, insubordination, making false statements among others.
The striking staff also want two other leaders of the administrative staff Association (MASA) including Joseph Kalema (Secretary) and Bennet Magara (Chairperson) who were also suspended by Prof Nawangwe to be reinstated.
The School of Law has now written a five-page document of legal counsel regarding the legality of the suspensions and whether the law grants the Vice Chancellor the powers to penalize Association Heads in such a manner.
Makerere University legal scholar, Prof Jean John Barya, who is also an expert in labour law told a news conference on Monday that by suspending the three Association leaders, the Vice Chancellor violated their freedom of Association as well as academic freedoms.
He said that all the allegations against the staff Association leaders relate to their lawful acts in leading and representing staff.
He said that Article 29 of the Constitution guarantees the right to collective bargaining and the right to strike by members of labour unions. The law don further cited Articles 68 and 93 of the Universities and Tertiary Institutions Act of 2001 which establish Associations and that members of staff shall be free to join and form Associations of their choice.
Regarding the legality of the suspension, Prof Barya said that the conditions (including cutting their salary and restricting them from accessing the university premises) under which Dr Kamunyu, and the two others were suspended were on the basis of them being university employees which he says contravenes with the Labou Unions Act, since the acts for which the three were penalized were done while conducting their duties as representatives of staff.
“An association or union leader enjoys the protection of the law and in particular, under the provision of the Labour Unions Act… no employer is allowed to interfere with the administration of labour unions or to discriminate in regard to terms and conditions of employment or to discharge any employee on account of their involvement in union activity,” the School of Law wrote in its legal opinion.
The dons add: “An employer is not allowed to prevent or hinder a union official from accessing other employees or to fail to accord any such official facilities to enable them discharge their responsibilities promptly and efficiently”.
The legal scholars further contend that for these leaders to mobilize employees to collectively withdraw labour can not constitute “incitement with intent to cause disobedience and/or strike to undermine the university administration” as cited by the Vice Chancellor.
“It is therefore unconstitutional and unlawful for University Management to suspend or otherwise purport to discipline a leader or official of a staff Association or union for any act done in furtherance of staff Association or union interests of the staff members of those associations or unions,” the opinion further states.
Prof Barya also argued that the suspension of the three leaders is tantamount to a direct attack on not only the freedom of Association of university staff but also an attack on academic freedom. He said that Article 29(1)(b) of the Constitution guarantees every person’s right to freedom of thought, conscience and belief which includes academic freedom in institutions of learning.
The opinion which SoftPower News obtained a copy of is signed by Makerere law dons including Prof Joe Oloka Onyango, Prof Jean John Barya, Dr Sylvia Tamale, Daniel Ruhweza, Ronald Mayambala, Fredrick Mpanga, Busingye Kabumba, Robert Kirunda among others whose signatures together constitute majority at the School of Law.
The opinion comes at a time when the negotiations between the striking staff and the university Management thus far have not yielded any fruits. The University Vice Chancellor throughout last week maintained there was no strike at the university and attacked the media for reporting “fake news”.