The Malta Independent 5 March 2024, Tuesday
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TMID Editorial: The teachers’ strike

Saturday, 25 November 2023, 11:27 Last update: about 4 months ago

On Monday, a one-day nation-wide teachers’ strike for government and church schools is planned.

The Malta Union of Teachers (MUT) and the government have been unable to reach agreement over a new collective agreement.

On Thursday, the government announced its contingency plan in case the strike occurs, which at this stage seems inevitable. First of all, the government said that its schools will open and there will be supervision offered. However, children who do not attend on the day will be excused and will not need to present a certificate. Among other things, school transport services will not operate, nor will the breakfast club and Klabb 3-16.

The education minister sounded a warning to the union, saying that no negotiations will take place before the directives are withdrawn. "We are always open for negotiations", said the Minister, but said that these will not happen before the MUT stops its directives.

In a statement on its website on Thursday, the MUT said that while it remains "open to any communication with the Government towards improved financials and conditions of work of educators,” it reaffirmed the position on the ongoing trade dispute. “The differences between what the government is proposing and what MUT is expecting are considerable,” it said.

Teachers deserve good wages and working conditions. Their job is not an easy one. While some look at the profession and see the summer holidays, what many don’t see is the time it takes preparing for future lessons, grading homework, correcting exams, and the list goes on. They are tasked with the wellbeing of our children, educating the country’s future generation. Good wages and working conditions will help attract the best candidates to the profession.

 

In its electoral manifesto, the Labour Party said that there will be “another significant improvement in wages of educators over the coming five years.” The Prime Minister recently said that it has already offered a proposal that would result in a 'substantial improvement' in the working conditions and wages of teachers, but the MUT statement on Thursday said that what was offered and what is expected are still not close enough.

The strike seems cast in stone at this stage. But, one hopes that the two sides continue meeting around the bargaining table and find agreement as soon as possible. Teachers deserve good wages, but at the same time the government has a responsibility to ensure that it spends public funds well. As Prime Minister Robert Abela said, responsibility and sustainability are important factors for the government in its negotiations. In this respect he is right, as we are talking about the taxpayers money after all.

Perhaps more could have been offered had the government not spent hundreds of millions in the hospitals deal as it chose to do. Responsibility for the hospitals deal, especially after the court found collusion, still needs to be shouldered.

But the collective bargaining is taking place in today’s situation.

What has been proposed so far by the government, and what the union is demanding, have not been made public, so one cannot say whether one side is being unreasonable or not. One hopes that what the government offers the teachers isn’t some token increase, but is a package that teachers deserve. One also hopes that the union isn’t asking for so much that it is unsustainable to give.

What must happen, is that both sides continue discussions to find agreement. There will likely need to be movement by both sides.

The students must not be affected more than they have already been. Their studies are of the utmost importance.

At the end of the day, a package that is good for teachers, and acceptable to the government, must be found.

 

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