UPE accuses government and MUT of a backdoor deal which goes “against all procedures”

Classroom school
Miguela Xuereb

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

The Union of Professional Educators – Voice of the Workers has accused the government and the Malta Union of Teachers of reaching a backdoor deal which goes against all procedures.

In a statement on Saturday, the UPE said it wanted to point out the “evident lack of knowledge” that MUT had with regards to industrial law. It also said that the “disastrous” deal will infringe on the autonomy of Church and independent schools. MUT subsequently condemned the statements by UPE as “scaremongering and deceitful tactics”.

UPE had supported the two-day strike called by MUT after the government refused to move classes online following a spike in coronavirus cases. Malta registered 224 cases on Wednesday, which is the second highest daily tally recorded during the pandemic, after the amount was surpassed on Saturday when 245 new infections were registered.

The strike came to end following a joint statement after a meeting was held between Prime Minister Robert Abela, Education Minister Justyne Caruana, MUT, Secretariat for Catholic Education, Church School Association and Independent Schools Association.

Church and Private School Lose Autonomy After Disastrous MUT Deal

UPE claimed that Church and private schools have been stripped of their autonomy in operation following yet another ‘disastrous’ MUT backdoor-deal.

Online practice was successfully mustered, in March 2020, by Church and Private school educators, whose institutions invested on academic platforms as well as a more solid infrastructure. This had been done to garner the ability to switch to remote learning whenever the need arises.

“Their endeavour bore fruit with the evidence of a full online time table in place in the last two days, adopted as a preventative measure in the wake of a significant spike in COVID-positive cases,” UPE said.

The union noted that following the agreement reached on Friday, such practices can no longer be adopted. This will put educators and students at unnecessary risk of contagion.

It maintained that it felt the need to highlight the positive feedback coming from parents of children in Church and Private schools for the sterling service provided, and yet these educators and their institutions were unfairly placed on the same footing as state schools by the Ministry and the general public during the two-day strike.

UPE said several educators within these sectors reached out to the union to vent their frustration on the matter.

“All the effort conducted by Church and Private school educators has been flushed down the drain, to patch up and conceal the existing lacunae in the State sector, after a one-size-fits-all agreement was endorsed by MUT. It has thus become evident that MUT’s time representing the educational sector should come to a close,” UPE said.

“Against all procedures”

According to UPE, the agreement went against all procedures, showing lack of knowledge in industrial law.

The union said that MUT had the right to formally notify the Permanent Secretary of the unresolved matter. The Permanent Secretary would then be obliged to chair a meeting between both parties within five days. If agreement is not reached either party may refer the dispute/issue to the established conciliation mechanism after all attempts for discussions of negotiations have failed with the Permanent Secretary concerned.

A conciliatory board should have been assembled on such a sensitive matter involving the health and safety of Educators, students and their families.

“It is clear that shortcuts have been taken despite the ongoing spike resulting from the lack of adequate restrictions taken during the festive season. It is undeniable, at this point in time, that the analysis and figures presented by the experts at the meeting in Castille, stating that COVID numbers are on the decline, are flawed,” UPE remarked.

UPE accused MUT of allowing government officials to circumvent established reconciliatory procedures, thus clearly proving that they are not sufficiently well-versed in industrial law procedures.

MUT condemns scaremongering and deceitful tactics

In a statement on Saturday, MUT denied the claim relating to the autonomy of Church and independent schools, saying that representatives of the two sectors participated throughout all discussions.

MUT said that representatives of Church and independent schools would have not accepted to lose their respective autonomy at any point during the discussions.

The union also denied the claims that the deal would affect online teaching or the models adopted by respective Church and independent schools.

“This shall be confirmed when schools reopen with the same models adopted before the holiday period,” MUT said.

The union also denied any claims of wrongdoings with respect to procedures, adding that it followed all procedures as applicable by the respective legislation.

“There was no legal contestation by the government or any employer about the procedures followed. The MUT reminds instead that members of a minority union could only strike according to legislation since the strike was ordered by the recognised union in the sector, which is the MUT. The MUT is duty bound to cover all educators who follow industrial actions as it did during the past days,” the statement reads.

The union said that it would continue monitoring the situation with authorities and shall continue to support educators and schools to overcome the difficulties of the pandemic.