A salary raise for teachers and police officers

Now more than ever, particular attention has to be given to young people; a generation that seems to have radically transited from a digitally-shy era into one where life simply happens online, in permanent digital spheres of activity

Cartoon by Mikiel Galea
Cartoon by Mikiel Galea

Teaching should be a profession that gives its practitioners the immense reward and privilege of stewarding young people through life, a social contract of sorts in which parenting is delegated to the educational system, where children can acquire skills to serve them for life, as well as the necessary nourishment to keep them mentally limber, interested, and curious.

And yet, this newspaper’s experience when speaking to union leaders and members of the teaching profession, is that these people are not as motivated as they are expected to be, in some cases underpaid, and lacking the necessary respect from both child and parent. We should be reading endorsements about teaching being the best of jobs, fulfilling to have when seeing youngsters leaving school with good grades and a secure future to look to, and unfortunately, in some cases the opposite is true.

In one of this newspaper’s previous reports, we collected complaints from eight educators across the spectrum of education, from government, church and private schools, whose narrative was that of a profession overwhelmed by unpaid duties, administrative burdens, and parental mistrust. Teachers feel that their workloads are unfair on their wellbeing and mental health, and that too much is expected from them. As salary increases come slow and usually on the back of union threats, it is a profession that is becoming more and more feminised, prone to early dissatisfaction, and used as a springboard for educationalists to move into other professions.

Now more than ever, particular attention has to be given to young people; a generation that seems to have radically transited from a digitally-shy era into one where life simply happens online, in permanent digital spheres of activity. Together with parents, teachers are part of a consensus that should be bestowing values of decency and the value of good learning to children, particularly in granting them skills of critical thinking as well as the ability how to think for themselves; and with a newfound sense of community, of national appreciation, of enlightened patriotism as opposed to dim and lazy notions of jingoism, tribalism, and partisanship.

What a challenge.

And indeed, one that cannot be delivered if teachers are not allowed to teach, if their lives are burdened by administrative work and excessive assessments, if they cannot plan their own personal lives, and if their working lives are carried out without the necessary serenity that they can function in workplaces that guarantee both respect and security.

It is at this juncture in Malta’s impressive economic record and rapid, expansionist policies, that the “problems of success” – as some policymakers often dub them – require that the executive gives proper attention to two professions: teaching, as well as policing.

We mention policing not just in the aftermath of the incident of last week, but because it is clearly understandable that police officers and inspectors and other top brass members have a tall order and are still not being paid commensurate to the level of work they are expected and obliged to do. And yet their role in our society, like teachers, is essential. A well-paid and well-staffed police force is essential if we are to expect higher standards of policing, community vigilance, but also investigation of new forms of crime.

The recent European Commission spring forecast, with its particular attention on Malta’s problem of enforcement on anti-money laundering, is just a small clue of the onus placed on the Maltese police force. Not only must it be freed from its institutional “capture” by overbearing government interests, but it needs to have its moral improved. Better training, and better qualified officers are desirable. But better conditions of employment as well, salaries included, if we are to have a mutual understanding with police officers and other officials.

If citizens are to expect a better service from the police force, their dedication must be rewarded with appropriate salaries. Police inspectors earn salaries of only €24,000 after their first seven years on the back of a diploma in policing, and are expected not only to lead investigations, but also carry out prosecutions in courts and carry out general management of police stations. It is no wonder that talented officers often find an opportunity to deploy their skills in better paid jobs with legal firms or private security.

Governments have always responded to the challenge of staff retention by raising salaries for top performers, often working inside structures other than the civil service, but in dedicated government agencies and regulators who can offer top pays to attract the best talent?

And yet, are not teachers and police officers among the most important and under-praised of our tax-funded workers? It is clear we need a new impetus to reinvigorate the workers in these two professions. Even with a new charter of obligations that safeguards what we can expect from these hard-working members of society.

Teachers and police officers are crucial members of our community, the best of whom can be leaders who work hand-in-hand with citizens, forming part of a chain in continuity of learning and community awareness. Without the proper support for these two professions, we risk undermining the pillars of a stronger society. They too must benefit from the growth of the Maltese economy. A salary raise is one of the first steps to keep our best men and women in the job.