Why teachers still need a union

'Whatever your sector and grade, to unite and stand together for each other. You only stand to benefit'

Marco Bonnici
6 December 2017, 7:53am
When the Malta Union of Teachers spoke about the need for improved security measures in schools, we were not envisaging that one day we would have a student who would be attended-to by a police officer in school. This is the current situation in a secondary school where educators and students alike have filed a number of reports as they were not feeling safe at the school in the presence of the said student.

Without going into the merit of the case, it seems that the only measure deemed appropriate by the respective educational authorities to solve the situation was to request constant police presence at the school to attend to the student. From a professional perspective, I am highly concerned about the incongruous message being portrayed to the same student and to other students in the said school. The psychological effect of this decision on the students cannot be underestimated.

This decision is nothing but a clear manifestation of the failure of authorities to stick to their initial positions to provide an individualised programme for the said student away from her/his current school.

Some questions which will probably remain unanswered are due: Will the police presence with the student continue for the remaining months of this scholastic year? Who will determine when this police presence will cease? Who will protect educators and students at the said school if the police presence is withdrawn or is unavailable? Why have the educational authorities discarded their initial proposals for an individualised programme for the student? Will this direction be applied in other situations which may arise leading to constant police presence in a number of schools?

 

The need for a union

Last Sunday, MaltaToday reported that there are a number of concerned independent school teachers considering transferring to a state or church school, where teachers’ salaries are, on average, better.

We explained that independent school teachers’ salaries are regulated by agreements that are not linked to those of church and state schools and that we will be revising the separate school agreements accordingly upon expiry. The article then concluded with a very interesting remark by the journalist, which is worth reproducing in its entirety.

“Educators who work at independent schools and who do not form part of a union, have no collective agreement. They would be at the mercy of their employers and any decision regarding wage increases and emoluments would be at the employers’ discretion.”

We sometimes hear people asking whether Unions are still needed in this day and age. They ask out of lack of knowledge of what a Union does and how agreements are negotiated, how members are assisted collectively and individually when the need arises, and the many fora in which members are represented. They ask whether employees can solve their issues by going to their employer directly instead of taking the hassle of becoming members of a Union and have someone representing them.

The harsh reality is that if employees, in our case educators, do not come together and unite, their struggles will be much harder to understand, to be discussed and to be tackled head-on with management.

Without being unionised, and without a collective agreement outlining even the basic of conditions and understandings between the employer and the employees, some issues can never be resolved. Employees would struggle on even the very basic of issues, and with the power struggle being what it is, employers would tend to have their way most of the time.

Employees would truly be at the mercy of the employer, who would often utilise divide-and-rule tactics to keep everyone at bay. Wages become haphazard with no structure at all, creating ongoing friction and stress among employees. As a Union we certainly never claimed that we would solve all problems - issues will continue to crop up. However, many of them can be tackled by employees who contribute to their place of work as members of a Union that seeks fair conditions and remuneration.

The Malta Union of Teachers has, last week, celebrated its 98th Anniversary since its inception. As Malta’s first registered trade union, it was this idea that compelled a young 29-year-old teacher, Antonio Galea, to take the initiative and call all teachers in Malta to unite and fight for their rights. Almost a century later, I am proud to be the President of the Union that stands as the largest sectoral trade union in Malta, representing educators and allied professionals across the whole spectrum of education from kindergarten up to university level.

I encourage all employees, whatever your sector and grade, to unite and stand together for each other. You only stand to benefit.

 

Marco Bonnici is president of the Malta Union of Teachers