The Malta Independent 5 December 2020, Saturday

UPE issues directives after talks with Education Ministry over schools closure fail

Tuesday, 20 October 2020, 11:59 Last update: about 3 months ago

The Union of Professional Educators – Voice of the Workers has issued a set of directives for its members in State and Church schools after they said that talks with the Education Ministry for the closure of schools and continuation of lessons online failed.

In a statement, the UPE said that it had a meeting with the Ministry of Education yesterday morning in order to discuss the closure of schools and the proposal for an immediate move for lessons to be held online.

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This meeting followed an ultimatum given by the UPE to discuss the proposal.

The Union said that the current situation, where COVID-19 is concerned, is dire: the numbers speak for themselves and are, to say the least, alarming.

“On a daily basis, we hear of new positive infections within our schools among educators and also among our student populations”, the union, which has been reporting what it calls ‘alleged cases’ of Covid-19 in schools for a number of weeks, said.

“The Health system is being put under way too much pressure with contact tracing being heavily delayed, swabs being done several days after being requested, and results coming out much later.”

For these reasons, the UPE reiterated the importance of implementing plan B and moving back to an online method of teaching with immediate effect.

The union said that the Ministry only offered “more vague responses rather than a show of true concern for the educational sector.”

“The ministry blamed the Health Authorities, saying that it is ultimately their remit to take the decision, and likewise from their end, the Health Authorities brushed off all form of responsibility on the matter onto the Ministry of Education”, the UPE said.

“This endless game of ping pong should not be happening, especially when it is the health and safety of thousands of people that is at stake.”

The UPE said that it has not stopped following the COVID situation internationally, and has noticed that in countries with a lower infection rate than the one we currently have, a state of emergency was called, schools were closed physically, and lessons were moved online.

“Why then is it that our educational system does not seem to have a plan B in place ready to be implemented to help resolve, at least in part, the national crisis we have at hand? Why wait longer when the current system has already failed so many?”

The UPE said that regretfully, until now, the discussions held have not been fruitful. The union will wait until midnight today for the ultimatum to come to a close and then take action. We, at the UPE, have demonstrated our willingness to discuss further, and to find a way forward at this point in time. 

“We need businesses to remain open and we need them to thrive and flourish, but this can only be done by reducing numbers significantly, and this will not happen unless we stop having thousands of people crammed together in enclosed spaces in educational institutions for hours on end”, the union said.

The UPE said that if they do not get a clear response from the government, it will be given no choice other than to take the situation in hand and take all the possible measures it has legally available to safeguard our members and our students in the best way possible. 

“To the unions disappointment common sense is not prevailing and the ministry together with the secretariat of catholic education haven’t comfort to resolve the current situation”, they added.

For this reason, the Union has issued the following directives to all its members working in State and Church Schools; 

  1. Members of the UPE who are working in Kindergarten are to stop giving lessons and should report to the SMT if students above the age of 3 are not wearing a mask or visor (with the exclusion of students with sensory issues). 
  1. Members of the UPE who are working in the Primary sector are not to accept any changes to their existing time-table or work-schedule.
  1. Members of the UPE are to work to rule and are not to do any voluntary or extra work within the school.
  1. LSE’s who are members of the UPE are not to accept any replacement lessons but are to remain in their class assisting other students as per job description. 
  1. LSE’s who are members of the UPE and who are currently working as relievers within Kindergarten classes which have the stipulated amount of students as per collective agreement 16.2 ( 12 learners in Kinder 1; 14 learners in Kinder 2) are to remain in class as a class LSE. 
  1. Members of the UPE are to refrain from submitting assessments related to LOFs.
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