Police union fighting for right to strike files constitutional case

Although members of disciplined forces are free to join a union for negotiating employment conditions, the law does not allow them to strike

A trade union representing police officers has filed a constitutional case against the State Advocate and the Commissioner of Police, in a bid to be granted the right to strike.

The Malta Police Union (MPU) says the court case was part of its fight for the rights to collective bargaining and industrial action as contemplated in the European Social Charter, a Council of Europe treaty that guarantees fundamental social and economic rights as a counterpart to the European Convention on Human Rights.

Lawyer David Bonello filed the action before the First Hall of the Civil Court in its Constitutional jurisdiction this morning.

The application states that Malta had ratified the European Social Charter in 1988 as well as subsequent revisions and protocols.

Under Maltese law, members of disciplined forces are free to join any registered trade union. But although unions are allowed to enter into negotiations regarding employment conditions, the law does not entitle them to take further action or register trade disputes.

Bonello is arguing that this means that trade unions are being deprived of their right to participate in full negotiations on behalf of members of disciplined forces.

The European Social Charter also states that certain public officials’ right to go on strike can be restricted completely, if this is necessary to protect the rights and freedoms of third parties, or to protect the public interest, national security, public health or morals.

But the charter also required a convincing reason to justify such a blanket prohibition of strike action, argued the MPU’s lawyer.

Bonello pointed out that according to a 2014 report by the European Committee on Social Rights had concluded that the situation in Malta, regarding the outright prohibition of disciplined forces’ right to strike, was not in conformity with the European Social Charter.

The absence of justification for this prohibition meant that the relevant legal disposition in the Employment and Industrial Relations was restricting the basic rights and freedoms of police officers, by removing the fundamental right to go on strike, he said.

As a union representing members of disciplined forces, the MPU said it had an interest in changing this situation and removing the prohibition insofar as the police are concerned.

It asked the court to declare that the current state of affairs breached police officers’ fundamental rights and freedoms  and requested the court take the necessary decisions and actions to bring the situation to an end. With this in mind, the court was also requested to bring the case to the attention of the competent authorities, as well as the Speaker of the House, so that they may be made aware and take action after the court hands down its decision.