[WATCH] Teachers' union registers industrial dispute over authorities' 'failure to act' amid rising COVID cases

The Malta Union of Teachers will be convening its council this evening to decide what action to take in the wake of an alarming increase in COVID-19 infections 

MUT president Marco Bonnici announced the industrial dispute at a press conference
MUT president Marco Bonnici announced the industrial dispute at a press conference

Updated at 3:36pm with Union of Professional Educators statement 

The council of the Malta Union of Teachers will be meeting later on Wednesday to discuss the spread of COVID-19 and determine what actions it should take.

In a press conference at midday, the union registered an industrial dispute with the government, after health authorities confirmed that the COVID variant accounted for more than of daily positive cases registered and that the variant was mostly affecting children.

"For schools, therefore, this changes everything," MUT president Marco Bonnici said. "Whereas up to some time ago, experts were insisting that COVID-19 was not affecting children and that transmission in schools was minimal, authorities have now confirmed that children are falling victim to and transmitting this variant."

The union noted that the vaccination programme for educators, though underway, was still a long way for completion, with many workers not having even yet received an appointment.

Moreover, it said, experts agreed that until herd immunity is reached, the virus will continue spreading across the community.

"Government should therefore take every measure possible to mitigate the effect of the pandemic," the MUT said. "But instead, we are seeing the exact opposite happening: the number of cases registered is rising daily and it is obvious the situation is not under control."

The union said the education ministry itself had confirmed this when, in the past few days, it had given its approval for a number of schools to take their teaching entirely online.

The MUT said it had always insisted that all schools move at the same rate.

"Government's directive 13 on telework protects public service workers but fails to protect educators, staff and families," it said. "And schools are already stretched with the increasing number of positive cases, the number of staff, educators and families in quarantine and the number of educators that have tested positive."

The MUT said it was registering an industrial dispute because of the authorities' failure to act promptly.

Union officials will be meeting the government later in the afternoon to make its position clear. After that, the MUT council will meet to discuss the situation and to decide what actions to take in the circumstances.

UPE resisters industrial dispute with Education Ministry 

The Union of Professional Educators (UPE) has registered an industrial dispute against the Ministry for Education.

The UPE said the number of cases registered on Wednesday was “alarming,” and that under the current circumstances with staff strained to meet the number of absences of educators who are either unwell or in quarantine, schools are not in a position to operate as is required, and as students deserve.

“For this reason, the union calls for immediate action to be taken by the government to safeguard the population and to place the well-being of the citizen at the forefront of any decisions taken,” the union said.

The UPE said it was registering an industrial dispute to safeguard the health and safety of its members. The union reiterated that all the directives issued to date in relation to the COVID-19 crisis situation in schools are active and need to be upheld and enforced by union members, at all times.

“The union is also issuing other directives with the aim of reducing the possibility of additional unnecessary contact of its members with others in the educational sector,” the UPE said.