The Malta Independent 29 February 2024, Thursday
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TMID Editorial: The right to strike

Wednesday, 6 December 2023, 10:23 Last update: about 4 months ago

The teachers’ one-day strike has come and gone, and the two sides are now back on the negotiating table.

The government and the Malta Union of Teachers are discussing the new collective agreement. The Education Ministry is saying that what is being offered should satisfy the union’s expectations. The MUT is still not happy with what the government is offering.

The talks continue.

But there’s one statement that by and large has gone unnoticed in the lead-up to the 27 November strike, which saw an overwhelming participation by the MUT members.

It was made by Prime Minister Robert Abela a day before the strike was due to take place.

Militant industrial action will not take you anywhere, the Prime Minister charged in his Sunday sermon. It sounded like a threat.

Was the Prime Minister challenging the right to strike?

Was the Prime Minister suggesting that one of the fundamental weapons that workers have to defend their interests should be taken away from them?

What do the unions have to say about this?

The MUT, possibly not to exacerbate an already difficult and delicate situation, did not pick up on the PM’s warning when it replied on why it was resorting to strike action.

But what the PM said is worrying, because of its underlying tone.

One does wonder what the PM’s father, former President George Abela, thinks about his son’s words. George Abela was for many years the lawyer for the General Workers Union, and he had been in the forefront in many of its battles, including the infamous 1999 strike by airport workers, when some of them were arrested. The older generations will remember the tense scenes that were witnessed on the road leading to the airport as the coach carrying the arrested workers was blocked by union officials, with George Abela in their midst.

If PM Abela was too young to remember that incident, maybe he should ask his father on what happened in those tumultuous days and the legal battles that followed that event to safeguard the workers’ right to strike.

Unions have a right to order industrial action to defend their workers, or in a bid to put pressure on their employers.

It must be emphasised that industrial action should be resorted to when all other avenues have failed, and when the two sides on either side of the negotiating table cannot come to terms. And, if industrial action is to be taken, a strike should always be a last option after other directives taken do not lead to the desired result.

Having said this – and we are not limiting ourselves to the current impasse with teachers – unions should also understand the bigger picture, and act responsibly when representing their workers in discussions over conditions of work.

The Prime Minister was wrong on another matter in his speech before the teachers’ strike. When he said that “children were the ones who will suffer the most” because of the strike, he was trying to create antagonism against teachers.

In a day and age when it has unfortunately become rather common for teachers to be verbally and sometimes physically attacked, the last thing we need is a PM who puts parents on a collision course with teachers.

 

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