Teachers' unions win after court rejects Education Ministry injunction to stop industrial action

The court has rejected an injunction that the government filed against two teachers' unions to stop industrial action ahead of the new academic year

The state had filed for the injunction against teachers’ unions MUT and UPE over an industrial action dispute (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
The state had filed for the injunction against teachers’ unions MUT and UPE over an industrial action dispute (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

Updated with Nationalist Party statement at 4:23pm 

A court has rejected government's effort to muzzle two teachers' unions, turning down an application for a warrant of prohibitory injunction that would stop industrial action by educators.

The State had filed for the injunction against teachers' unions MUT and UPE on the eve of the opening of State schools. The unions had ordered industrial action after the Education Ministry contacted peripatetic teachers just days before schools were to open and posting them to classrooms to plug a shortage of teachers. The MUT had issued directives to members not to follow the instructions.

The ministry filed the injunction against the unions stopping further directives. The ministry's action was challenged in court by the unions.

The court, presided by Mr Justice Neville Camilleri said that while it was true that warrants of prohibitory injunctions are to be granted to protect rights which appear to be valid prima facie, evidence was required to substantiate the applicants' declarations.

Defendant union MUT insisted that it could not understand the right claimed by the plaintiff and neither could it identify the irremediable prejudice that the injunction was protecting against. On its part the UPE argued that the applicants had no prima facie rights to protect and neither would they suffer any irremediable prejudice.

The court pointed out that there was a difference between an obligation and a right. "The fact that a person is obliged to do something doesn't give that person the right to do everything it can to satisfy its obligation. In the present situation it is recognised that that which the State is obliged to do with regards education, whilst at the same time the court also recognised the principle that a union had every right to issue directives and protect its members' interests."

The court after examining relevant and recent case law on the issues in play, said it was not satisfied that the ministry effectively had the prima facie it claimed it had.

It followed, therefore, that there was no rights for the court to protect, the judge said. Mr Justice Camilleri quoted from judgments which established that the warrant of prohibitory injunction is not to be used as a weapon or for "arm twisting".

The judgment is expected to create problems for the ministry as it tries to find a solution for a teacher shortage in its schools.

MUT said in a statement that it will continue following the cases involving transfers in primary schools and will order industrial action where necessary. It said that directives issued so far remain in place.

The UPE said that it will be instructing members on what to do within the coming hours.

Lawyers Keith Borg and Rebecca Mercieca assisted the MUT. Lawyers David Camilleri, Marion Camilleri and Franco Debono assisted the UPE. Lawyers James D'Agostino and Dennis Zammit assisted the applicants.

PN statement 

In a statement, the Nationalist Party said the Ministry of Education's attempt at bullying teachers had backfired, wasting "precious time" to find a solution for students and teachers.

"The Education Ministry is back to where they started three weeks, with the same problem; a lack of teachers," the PN said.

The party maintained that the only way forward was through genuine and constructive dialogue with educators. "Gone are the days of mismatches and bullying."