With Malta registering another record daily rise of COVID-19 cases, the Union of Professional Educators (UPE) has threatened to order a strike among its members at state and Church schools to pressure the government to close schools and return to a “proper” form of fully online teaching.
However, the Education Ministry said it doesn’t recognise the validity of the UPE’s directives because the union doesn’t enjoy legal recognition over Malta’s teaching sector.
UPE executive head Graham Sansone told Lovin Malta that his union has given the Education Ministry until Monday to reach out to them to discuss the way forward with regards schools. If the Ministry refuses, the UPE will escalate its current industrial directives among its members, which could eventually lead to a full-blown teachers’ strike.
Sansone said he wants online learning to improve, such as by ensuring strong Internet connection at schools and providing teachers with adequate equipment to allow them to teach high-quality lessons.
Contacted by Lovin Malta, a spokesperson for the Education Ministry said it considers the UPE’s directives to be null and void because the Malta Union of Teachers, and not the UPE, enjoys legal rights over the teaching sector.
However, Sansone contested this, referring to a 2019 court judgement which overturned a warrant of prohibitory injunction filed by the MUT to stop the UPE issuing directives for its educator members.
“The court ruling was clear. While the UPE cannot negotiate collective agreements on behalf of the teaching sector, we can issue directives to our members.”
He said the vast majority of the UPE’s members have so far obeyed the directives issued by the UPE last Thursday, which includes instructions not to accept any changes to their timetable or work schedule, not to collect money on behalf of the school, not to use their own equipment for work purposes, and not to accept any delegated work from the school management.
Back then, the MUT said it had lost the case due to a procedural issue and that the court’s ruling did not give the UPE rights to issue collective directives to its members.
Unlike the UPE, the MUT has not called for schools to close down and return online, but it has called for guidelines in case the pandemic forces schools to shut their doors.
Malta registered its largest-ever spike in COVID-19 cases today, with 204 new patients found in the last 24 hours.
New measures have been announced to curb its spread, like mandatory masks in public places and an 11pm curfew on bars.
All schools reopened this month, in a mixture of online and offline learning as well as masks, and social distancing rules for students and teachers.