Impasse in teachers’ dispute persists

Minister says offer on the table is ‘much higher’ than increases awarded five years ago 

Teachers are heading towards industrial action should government and the MUT not reach an agreement before 27 November
Teachers are heading towards industrial action should government and the MUT not reach an agreement before 27 November

The pay packet being offered to educators is “much higher” than the €110 million awarded in the 2017 sectoral agreement, Education Minister Clifton Grima has told MaltaToday.  

He insisted the government proposal fulfils the electoral pledge to ‘substantially increase’ pay packets for educators but declined to give any details. 

“What we are proposing in the sectoral agreement will encourage people exiting university to join the teaching profession,” he said without elaborating. 

The government and the Malta Union of Teachers are locked in a dispute after sectoral agreement talks failed. 

No details have yet emerged in public on the union’s demands and the government’s proposal. Sources within the teaching profession said the MUT has not even communicated its own proposals to its members. 

On Friday, the MUT said a second conciliatory meeting failed to break the impasse, and government’s fresh proposal was rejected. The union will be convening its council this week to determine the way forward as industrial action in State and church schools continues. 

The MUT has ordered industrial action that has led to the cancellation of meetings with parents, including IEP meetings for children with particular needs, and no keeping of school attendance, among others. A full-day strike is also planned for 27 November. 

Speaking to this newspaper yesterday, Grima said he did not agree with the union’s industrial action since government’s offer was “just” and “substantial”. 

“While I respect the union’s right to take industrial action, I cannot accept directives that cause pain to students with disability and their families,” Grima said. 

Parents of children with a disability have expressed concern since union members have been directed not to use communication books, and not attend IEP meetings, where the course of action for the scholastic year is mapped out. 

The union has defended its actions, insisting it was left with no option but to take industrial action as it accused government of reneging on its electoral pledge. 

The budget estimates for 2024 show that the education department will be paying €260.9 million in salaries and wages plus another €53.1 million in allowances. Additional expenditure on bonuses, social security contributions and overtime take the total staff expenditure to €343.7 million. These estimates do not incorporate increases that would be due as a result of a new sectoral agreement. 

Wages for educators are determined by the public service salary scale, which is subject to a separate collective agreement. Different categories within the public service then have sectoral agreements that boost pay packets through specific allowances and arrangements. 

The current talks between the MUT and the government are for a five-year sectoral agreement. The last such agreement was concluded in 2017 and expired in December last year. 

In an opinion piece appearing today, MUT President Marco Bonnici insists the trade dispute was called after government cancelled two meetings intended to discuss financials after two previous offers had been rejected “within minutes”. 

“The writing is on the wall and it is up to all educators in State and Church schools to make the required pressure en masse through participation in industrial action to obtain the promised and deserved financial increases,” Bonnici writes, adding the MUT will stand with all educators in this dispute. 

Meanwhile on Saturday, the MUT filed libel proceedings against the Union for Professional Educators after the latter had said that rumours suggest that MUT already accepted the financial proposals offered by the state and that the strike was merely a demonstration of power.

Contingency plan 

Meanwhile, senior government sources have told this newspaper that a contingency plan has been put in place for 27 November to minimise the disruption the strike will cause. 

“Public sector employees who will have to stay at home to take care of their children because of the school strike will be allowed to use telework,” the sources said, adding that on the day the Breakfast Club and Klabb 3-16 services will not be available. 

There is also pressure within the government not to yield to demands for educators who go out on strike to be paid. “Workers who strike will not be paid,” the sources said.