The Malta Independent 2 December 2023, Saturday
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From celebrated social dialogue to arm twisting and muzzling attempts

Saturday, 16 October 2021, 09:15 Last update: about 3 years ago

Marco Bonnici

It is ironic how in a span of few years, an administration who claims to have spearheaded social dialogue is using repeatedly prohibitory injunctions in court to try to arm-twist and muzzle trade unions.

For years we have heard how different administrations have tried to seek remedies in court, but there was somehow a distinction which is now inexistent. Warrants of prohibitory injunctions were sought in situations which would lead to a national crisis, such as disputes affecting the national airline or transportation and was deemed as the last resort when all possible measures to seek agreement failed.


The current administration has instead taken to court several trade unions in attempts to halt industrial actions. This says a lot about the supposedly ‘spearheading’ of social dialogue.

The MUT was slapped with the first prohibitory injunctions in January 2018 when it was negotiating the collective agreement with MCAST. At the time, the Ministry took this avenue to stop industrial actions ordered by the union in relation to a disagreement over the same.

Although it was heard in court, the ministry withdrew the case before the decision by the judge. The officials within the ministry and MCAST even confirmed, at the time, that the action was a face-saving one to avoid ‘losing’ the case.

The second prohibitory injunction was received by MUT in February 2018 over a dispute concerning the use of a tub in a Resource Centre. It was heard in court but the judge facilitated an agreement between the ministry and MUT and there was a resolution.

The latest prohibitory injuction attempt by the Ministry against MUT is somehow different and it shows that the tactics of arm twisting and muzzling went a step further. I will try to be faithful in the translation from Maltese of the Ministry’s request to the court as reproduced in the decree issued on 14 October by the Judge Dr Neville Camilleri (pg1):

(…the Ministry requested the court to stop MUT from) “declaring or ordering the issue of any directive or industrial action that hinders the deployment of educators in schools, or otherwise that hinders the smooth running of schools and the provision of educational services in Maltese schools once the scholastic year starts”.

The MUT is involved in the education sector, and any industrial action taken involves schools or educational institutions. Everyone may confirm that any industrial action taken in the education sector hinders the smooth running of schools.

The gravity of the attempt made in court by the ministry is evident. The ministry sought to obtain a blanket decree from the court that would stop not only current industrial actions affecting a group of members, but also all possible future industrial actions. If the warrant of prohibitory injunction was upheld, the ministry would have used it in any dispute to try to coerce the union in complying. So much for a Government ‘spearheading’ social dialogue.

There is however more to this that may have gone unnoticed. The ministry filed the request for a prohibitory injunction (on Friday 24 September) before it even started the transfers exercise (on Saturday 25 September) and before the issue of the directives by MUT.

This has far-ranging implications. We are now faced with a situation where well before a trade union issues industrial actions, it is slapped with a warrant of prohibitory injunction to pre-empt any action. Furthermore, the ministry dragged into the dispute another union (UPE) who does not represent educators collectively and who has not issued any directive, as declared by the same both publicly and in court. This union also declared that it gave instructions to its members to adhere with the instructions of the ministry and to accept deployments. This is documented. The MUT questions the motive behind the dragging of this union in the dispute, which concerned only MUT and the ministry since it was only the MUT that has been negotiating with the ministry on the matter, being the only recognised union for collective representation.

The decree given by the court is a win for the MUT and the educators that it represents. It is also a win for trade unionism and the right to industrial actions. The Ministry for Education, led by sheer arrogance and advised by unprecedented incompetence, will not learn the lesson and I am sure that this shall not be the last prohibitory injunction attempt against the operations of the MUT.

As declared throughout, the MUT and its educators will never be muzzled and the arm-twisting attempts will backfire.


Marco Bonnici is President Malta Union of Teachers


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