Teachers at the Clubclass English Language school in Swieqi will go on strike tomorrow, the first day of the school’s reopening since the pandemic, in protest at their conditions.
The Union of Professional Educators (UPE) is organising the strike as a last resort after repeated attempts to contact the school’s owner Joe Aquilina to discuss improvements to the teachers’ work conditions failed.
While teacher strikes are not uncommon in Malta, this will be the first ever strike carried out by EFL teachers.
“We received a surge of membership applications from EFL teachers during the COVID-19 pandemic,” UPE head Graham Sansone told Lovin Malta. “It turns out they were never unionised and the vast majority of them on zero-hour contracts.”
Sansone said that while they were paid good salaries while business was good, the pandemic made them realise how vulnerable they truly are.
The vast majority of teachers are on zero-hour contracts, which means they don’t get paid if there’s no work for them to do and they’re not entitled to sick leave or vacation leave.
Although they are beneficiaries of the government’s COVID-19 wage supplement scheme, they are classified as part-timers, which means they are only earning a maximum of €500 a month, excluding NI.
And some are earning even less.
Malta Enterprise has calculated their benefits based on how many hours they worked in January and February, meaning teachers who went on holiday or fell sick during those two months have to make do with a lower wage supplement.
“Some are earning €260, €230 a month… they cannot live on these salaries,” Sansone said. “Some cannot keep up with their mortgages, one teacher has been evicted and others are set to be evicted.”
After acquiring the majority union membership among Clubclass’ teachers, UPE reached out to the school’s owner Joe Aquilina to discuss issues pertaining to the teachers’ contracts, but he repeatedly ignored their correspondence.
“At the end of last week, he had finally got round to contacting the ELT Council saying he was willing to initiate talks so as not to escalate the issue further, but since then there has been total and utter silence from his end,” the UPE said.
“The union and the teachers had welcomed Mr. Aquilina’s apparent willingness to finally show some good will, and the teachers have been expectantly waiting for some form of communication from the union saying that he had agreed to set up some sort of reconciliatory meeting.”
“Unfortunately, no such communication could be imparted, as Mr. Aquilina, yet again made himself very conspicuous by his absence.”
Teachers therefore unanimously voted in favour of an indefinite strike, which will start tomorrow with a picket outside the school.
Sansone said it is in Aquilina’s best interest to engage with his union, stating that EFL bookings for the summer have picked up significantly and it is now predicted that Malta will hit 40% of last year’s student numbers, despite the pandemic.
“He will face problems if the strike continues and he can’t dismiss the teachers or it will be considered as unfair dismissal by the law courts,” he said.
Moreover, seeing as Aquilina is a PN San Ġwann councillor, Sansone said he intends to ask PN leader Adrian Delia if he agrees with his action.
“I will ask Delia if he supports people in his party who are against the basic right of free association and hold him responsible for it,” he said. “As far as I know, the PN’s values should include the right to free association.”
Cover photo: Left: Clubclass English Language school
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