The Malta Independent 14 July 2020, Tuesday

Minibus drivers agreed to pay cut during school closure months

Giulia Magri Tuesday, 30 June 2020, 07:39 Last update: about 13 days ago

Minibus drivers hired by the government to work on the free school transport scheme were not receiving a full wage during the months of COVID-19 when schools were closed, Education Minister Owen Bonnici has told The Malta Independent.

Sources had told this newspaper that minibus drivers were receiving their full salary despite schools being closed, but the Education Minister said this was not the case.

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The free school transport scheme was introduced in 2018 for independent and public schools. Previously, only state schools were provided with free transport. The scheme became very popular in the span of a few months and, by September 2019, 250 operators had enrolled to provide the service. Then Education Minister Evarist Bartolo had said that the scheme was costing the government €27 million a year.

Speaking to The Malta Independent, Minister Bonnici said a ‘middle of the road’ agreement was reached. “There is a contract in place but, following discussions with the minibus drivers, we reached a compromise whereby we deducted part of the amount that drivers are paid.”

This happened due to the fact that, as a result of the closure of schools on 12 March, the drivers could not perform their regular duties.

Bonnici explained that a certain percentage was cut from their wages during the months in which drivers were not operating. The Minister said he did not immediately have the exact figures. This newsroom is yet to receive the exact percentages from the Ministry.

Bonnici also said that the minibus drivers are not entitled to the €800 COVID-19 wage supplement. The drivers are paid according to the previous existing agreement, and are not given any supplements over and above, he said.

Bonnici also praised the drivers who were of great help distributing lunches to students from disadvantaged backgrounds. “They (drivers) cooperated a lot and ensured that these students received their lunches at home.”

Students from disadvantaged backgrounds who usually receive a free lunch at school continued to do so with the aid of the government and bus drivers who delivered their food to their homes.

There were also households who received one-year free internet access to enable children living there to access online learning, and children without a laptop or tablet also received equipment to enable them to participate in online learning.

 

 

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