The Malta Independent 23 September 2019, Monday

TMID Editorial: MUT-government dispute - Students should not be disregarded

Friday, 7 June 2019, 09:50 Last update: about 5 months ago

It is understandable that, when unions enter into industrial disputes they try to force change by issuing directives to their members. For unions to be effective in their demands, their orders need to cause some kind of disruption that pushes for decisions to be taken for matters to improve.

Many unions start with the least effective measures and, if things remain unchanged, the industrial action is escalated until it reaches the maximum, a full-blown strike, which is the last resort. There are many times when disputes are resolved before a strike is called, and this is commendable for both sides of the negotiating table.

Unions are often also very cognizant of the disturbance they will create to third parties by industrial action they order. They need to be seen to be exerting pressure on the entity they are in dispute with, but at the same time it could backfire on them if their demands are perceived to be unjustified, or if the action they order has a very negative effect on innocent parties.

We believe that the latter is the case with regard to the industrial action that has been ordered by the Malta Union of Teachers in its recent disagreement with the Education Ministry.

The industrial action has been ordered following a dispute with the Education Ministry with regard to the teachers’ workload. The ministry has replied that only 3.5% of teachers have a maximum workload of 25 lessons per week.

But, irrespective of who is right and who is wrong, and whether the union is justified in its claims or whether the ministry is playing with numbers, it is the type of industrial action decided by the MUT which needs to be questioned.

Why did the MUT choose to involve students through its action, rather than take another approach to deal with the situation? Like every other union, the MUT has the right to defend its members, but why did it opt to use students in its fight with the ministry?

Students have been preparing for their end-of-year exams for the past weeks, if not months, and it is very unfair that undue pressure is being placed on them as the two sides take opposite stands on the situation. The MUT has said that mathematics and Maltese exams in government secondary schools will not take place. The government says that they will.

It is not the first time that, under the leadership of president Marco Bonnici, the union resorted to action that hit students mostly. It happened at MCAST some 18 months ago when, then again, the directives issued by the union had a deep effect on the students when they had no fault at all in the dispute the MUT had with the government at the time.

The same is happening now. The MUT can exert pressure on the government to reach its goals – whether they are justified is, as we said before, another issue – through other means.

It should have never put students in the fray. They are the ones who will end up suffering the most.

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