Some state heads of school have forwarded a warning by a teacher union to their staff that disciplinary action could be taken against them if they follow a new rival teacher union’s industrial action directives.
The Malta Teachers’ Union (MUT) last week emailed a circular to state heads, requesting that they forward it to educators and place it on a noticeboard where all can see it.
The circular reads like a warning to members of a rival teacher union, the Union of Professional Educators (UPE), not to follow directives recently issued by their union in protest at salaries of LSEs and transport supervision matters.
“We would like to inform MUT members that collective directives issued by other unions in the education sector are ILLEGAL,” MUT president Marco Bonnici wrote. “Neither the MUT nor ANYONE will have legal grounds on which to defend people who follow illegal directives when their employers take disciplinary steps against them.”
“Indeed the law states: ‘Once a union is recognised as the sole collective bargaining union, no other union may intervene on a collective matter relating to the employees concerned with a union other than the recognised union.’”
However, UPE executive head Graham Sansone has accused Bonnici of misinterpreting the law to harass his members into silence.
“The extract of the law the MUT cited regulates collective bargaining powers,” Sansone told Lovin Malta. “While the UPE cannot negotiate on collective matters, as the MUT is recognised as the majority union, the law gives minority unions the right to issue directives to defend their members.”
“It is shameful that a union which is supposed to be defending workers’ rights is harassing workers not to obey directives which were issued to protect their rights.”
He also questioned whether the Education Ministry approves of this circular, seeing as it must give the green light to all circulars before they are published by state schools.
This dispute started this month when both the MUT and the UPE issued directives for industrial action to its respective members over a number of issues, including a new regulation which has resulted in newly graduated LSEs being placed on a higher salary scale than LSEs who had been working for a few years.
While the MUT limited its industrial action among LSEs, the UPE went a step beyond and issued it to all its educator members. The new union also issued all of the MUT’s directives and added a couple more, essentially meaning that UPE members have been told to strike harder than their MUT counterparts.
Besides sending its circular to heads of school, the MUT has also filed a judicial protest declaring the UPE’s actions as illegal and accusing the new union of sowing confusion in schools.
Meanwhile, the Malta Employers’ Association, which represents heads of church and independent schools, agreed with the MUT that only unions with a majority membership in a company or organisation can issue directives for industrial action.
“The recent cases of industrial actions being taken by unions who do not have a majority of employees in a workplace, the most recent of which being the directives issued by the Union of Professional Educators to Learning Support Educators, are clearly illegal and a threat to industrial relations stability,” the MEA said.
“They impinge upon the functioning of industrial democracy, and besides disrupting productivity without having any legal legitimacy to do so, they also disrespect the rights of the union that has the legitimate recognition to negotiate collective issues. No workplace should be made to suffer the consequences of such irresponsible rivalry among trade unions.”
Sansone dismissed this argument as a load of rubbish and a sign of collusion between employers, the Education Ministry and the Malta Teachers’ Union, who are concerned that the long held status quo is being shaken up.
The MUT has been the sole representative of Maltese teachers since 1919, but Sansone set up the UPE in 2017 to challenge its monopoly. And while he is keeping the official number of his members under wraps, he said he is confident that membership is growing rapidly.
Sansone has also publicly challenged Bonnici to a debate, which Lovin Malta tried to set up last month but wasn’t able to because the MUT President said he didn’t want to legitimise UPE.