The Malta Independent 26 February 2024, Monday
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Post-strike reflections

Sunday, 3 December 2023, 08:40 Last update: about 4 months ago

Marco Bonnici

Monday 27 November was an important milestone for educators together with the sole recognised union representing them, MUT.  It was no ordinary school day and it was felt as early as 6.30am. School transport was not roaming our roads, students were not waiting at designated pick up points, parents and guardians were not chatting outside school doors upon accompanying their children, and schools were practically empty. The call by the Malta Union of Teachers for a one-day strike in State schools and in Church schools was strongly felt with an overwhelming 97% participation in the strike.

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A few days earlier the Education Ministry announced a contingency plan stating that it would keep school doors open specifically during school time, cancelling pre-school, after school services and transport on the day. It was touted that the government had up to 700 personnel (non- educators) on a reserve list to take over the running of schools on the day. However, the Education Ministry was banking on limited attendance of students on the day and the decision to cancel transport and other services resulted in the limited 600 students who attended State schools. Furthermore, and this was inevitable given that educators would be on strike, the insistence by the Education Ministry that only supervision would be provided on the day, discouraged most parents from sending children to schools. 

The Church authorities also issued directions to their schools. Possibly faced with an increased difficulty to have a reserve list of personnel to take over their schools, Church schools informed parents and guardians that students should not attend school on the day.

The decision of Church schools was welcomed by many in comparison to State schools’ ‘limited service’, which raised some safety concerns by having outsiders supervising students. Even when comparing the statement of the Education Ministry with that of Church authorities one could see the difference in perspective and objectives clearly spelled out in the text.  

On the other hand, during the days preceding the strike many gave their take in the issue, some of which were not so appreciative of the cause and of educators. Most educators were concerned about attacks on the profession triggered by the dispute, despite recognising that it was inevitable. There were ongoing messages issued from the Education Ministry and the Malta Union of Teachers about the required level of respect towards educators. The personal respect shown and declared publicly by both sides limited the extent of the unwarranted attack. The reasons for the dispute were clear to all although the two negotiators were tight-lipped when it came to disclosure about proposals. This reflected the standard practice of negotiations. Speculation was the order of the day in the run-up to the strike with frequent reference to alleged percentage increases, which may be on the table. These remain unfounded.

The day of the strike saw an informal meeting called by the Education Ministry with MUT officials. It was held on ‘neutral’ grounds and lasted almost two hours. Many educators and observers of the dispute were hoping for this meeting to take place but lost hope when the government declared that it would not negotiate until the union lifts directives. The informal meeting achieved what the conciliation process enacted during the dispute failed to do. It reconciled both sides towards the common objective of reaching an agreement. Whilst no immediate common ground was in sight during the said discussion, both parties agreed about a schedule of meetings to discuss their differences and reach solutions. An exchange was also held about ways to overcome difficulties in negotiations and the principles that require further discussions were discussed. Following the informal meeting and after being presented with this way forward, the MUT Council decided to temporarily suspend the directives to enable the new round of discussions.

The next chapter is still to start and to be reported. The MUT will continue to stand out as the sole union, which united educators in a historic front for improved status, recognition and respect.

 

Marco Bonnici, President of the Malta Union of Teachers

 

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