MUT orders strike after government denies request for online teaching as COVID-19 infections spike

The Malta Union of Teachers has called a two-day strike in State schools after its request for teaching to go online in the midst of a COVID-19 spike is turned down by the government • Action will also impact independent schools that will not go online

State schools reopen tomorrow after the Christmas holidays
State schools reopen tomorrow after the Christmas holidays

Updated at 7:50pm with MUT strike decision

The Malta Union of Teachers has ordered a two-day strike for educators in all State schools after emergency talks with government broke down this evening.

Union president Marco Bonnici said a request for teaching to go online until a thorough assessment of the COVID-19 situation is carried out by the health authorities following a post-holidays spike in cases was refused by Prime Minister Robert Abela. The union said it was warned that teachers will not be paid if they opted for online lessons.

Bonnici said following the government's intransigence on the matter, the union declared an industrial dispute and ordered its members in those schools that will not be offering online teaching to go on a two-day strike.

The strike action is being supported by the Union for Professional Educators.

The emergency meeting with the Prime Minister, the Health Minister and the Education Minister was held on the eve of State schools reopening. The strike action leaves thousands of parents in the lurch with little time to make alternative arrangements.

The union had earlier warned it would order industrial action as it claimed the education authorities had ignored health advice to keep schools shut.

However, in the afternoon, Public Health Superintendent Charmaine Gauci denied that government was advised to keep schools closed after the Christmas holidays.

Gauci was addressing a joint press conference with Health Minister Chris Fearne on Wednesday to give timeframes for the expected roll out of the COVID-19 vaccine.

"We noted an increase in cases among children and informed the educational authorities. The screening policy at the door will continue being applied rigorously and my appeal to parents is not to send sick children to school," Gauci said, calling for cooperation.

But Bonnici insisted this evening that the union's information was correct and the advice given was to delay the physical opening of schools given the coronavirus spike.

Church schools took a collective decision to restart the school term online for the first two days, with a possible extension until Wednesday next week. The decision was communicated by the Curia earlier today.

Some independent schools also started operations online.

Bonnici said strike action will not impact schools that opted for online learning. He said the union was concerned about the health and safety of educators and children. "We have some schools that have opted to start the term online but government is refusing to give the same opportunity to State schools, creating a discriminatory situation among educators," he said.

Bernard Grech slams Abela

Inbidel il-Ministru tal-Edukazzjoni, imma l-attitudni tal-Gvern ma tinbidilx. Dan hu tort tal-inkompetenza u l-arroganza...

Posted by Bernard Grech on Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Opposition leader Bernard Grech expressed solidarity with educators and accused the Prime Minister of ignoring health advice. "The education minister changed but government's attitude did not. This is the fault of Robert Abela's incompetence and arrogance. I show solidarity with teachers, who had to take strike action because Robert Abela's government is ignoring the advice of the health authorities and continues repeating the mantra of business as usual," Grech said.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Nationalist Party said that the Ministry of Education should take all the necessary actions and give assurances that the health of children and educators were not being been endangered due to inaction by the government.

The PN said today’s record number of COVID-19 cases was of great concern. The party said that parties which took place over the Christmas period could also lead to a higher number of cases in the coming days.

“The new variant of COVID-19 is said to be spreading faster than its predecessor as well as concerns that it may affect children and young people more than the virus we have seen so far,” the party said.

The PN said it was calling for caution and accountability as well as for a transparent and honest dialogue to find solutions that safeguard students, educators and parents.

“Stubbornness and arrogance is certainly not the way forward,” the party said.