The Malta Independent 24 June 2019, Monday

Sport Malta coaches faced with mismanagement, under-staffing and the continual fear of being sacked

Albert Galea Sunday, 20 January 2019, 10:00 Last update: about 5 months ago

Coaches working at Sport Malta are facing serial mismanagement, under-staffing and the continual fear of losing their jobs due to budget cuts.

Sources speaking to The Malta Independent on Sunday explained the dire situation of coaches working at the national sports agency - which falls under the Parliamentary Secretariat for Sport through the Ministry for Education, describing it as a question of "survival of the fittest in a dictatorship type of employment".

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Opportunities for communication between the coaches and Sport Malta's head office are few and far between, and when people from the head office do visit the pool, gymnasium  or classes, it is merely to see who should be fired or not, one coach told this newsroom.

Such a turnover of employees is mainly due to one thing, the coach said: budget cuts. The source explained that these cuts have resulted in "intentional under-staffing" in the coaching staff, meaning that the student-to-coach-ratio of one coach to five students - which is stipulated for health and safety reasons - is ignored. A pattern observed at the agency, the coach explained, is that the number of coaches is being cut only to be replaced by MCAST students for the simple reason that they will work unpaid as part of their course.

The winter months see this ratio continually ignored, to the extent that classes are mixed in such a manner that a 12-year-old child may end up in the same swimming class as a 30-year-old adult, the source continued.

In addition to this, there are still serious concerns  when coaches are actually employed. Last summer, for instance, one coach who was employed had a police record and a pending court case, the source said. It should be noted that coaches are formally required to forward their police conduct certificate at the start of employment only, meaning that this person was still allowed to work with children despite having a police record.

In addition, we were told that some coaches are employed despite lacking the proper qualifications. For example, a coach could be only half-way through a gymnastics course and still be allowed to teach, the source explained.

In terms of pay, the source said, there is a policy that if coaches are between five and 15 minutes late, they face a loss of pay of 30 minutes. However, the source added, the time they spend waiting with children until their parents pick them up is totally disregarded. This is not a question of payment, the coach said, but an acknowledgement would go a long way. 

Meanwhile, there is no fixed date for the payment of salaries, and many times the payment is late.  Taking leave can be another nightmare for a coach, as the coaches themselves are required to find a replacement to take their place. If they are unsuccessful, then their class is joined to that of another coach - once again throwing any idea of having a proper coach-to-student ratio out of the window.  Furthermore, taking 'excessive leave' can even result in punishment.

When it comes to the actual lessons, there is no real syllabus for coaches to follow. A scheme of work is expected, but (if and when) this is submitted, it is not enforced or maintained, we were told.  Furthermore, the coach added, there have been occasions when coaches are mixed, despite their specific skill set - for instance, swimming coaches end up taking over aerobic classes or vice-versa.

During these same lessons, the treatment of the coaches leaves much to be desired. They are not allowed breaks - not even to go to the bathroom - between lessons and if they do sit down for a brief break during a lesson, they are reprimanded by the head coaches, who are required to act on instructions from staff at the head office, who frown upon such short breaks. This even applies if a coach has completed a four-hour long lesson in the searing summer heat, the source said.

Head coaches and helpers are in a similar boat, the source says. It is not uncommon for head coaches to be forced to work without pay in order to complete certain pieces of paperwork. The source also mentioned one case of a helper who is forced to work unpaid shifts as otherwise she would end up losing her job for the busier summer period.

The equipment available to coaches also leaves a lot to be desired. They are initially given just one t-shirt, which is not UV-protected, and they are pressured to stay in uniform for all their lessons, whether it is pouring with rain or blisteringly hot. In addition, the coaches are not provided with staff lockers for them to keep their belongings in.

The equipment used for the lessons, meanwhile, is both out-dated and in short supply. Sometimes there is not enough equipment to cater for all the lessons, and there has been no investment in any new equipment since the original stock was purchased three years ago. Yoga and fitness classes are even held in a snooker hall - with the snooker tables still in place - whilst there is an element of mismanagement in how swimming classes are handled. It is not uncommon for the bookings of lanes to clash, and sometimes there are not even enough lanes booked in the first place. 

Sport Malta falls under the wing of the Parliamentary Secretariat for Youth, Sport and Voluntary Organisations, led by Clifton Grima which, in turn, is the responsibility of the Ministry for Education and Employment, led by Evarist Bartolo. Sport Malta's chairman is Luciano Busuttil, who previously served as a Labour MP, having been elected in 2008 and 2013.  He was not re-elected in 2017.

 


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