UHM to go ahead with industrial action at childcare centres despite court’s order

Union Haddiema Maghqudin 'not informed' of court's decision partially upholding warrant of prohibitory injunction

The Union Haddiema Maghqudin has ordered a new set of industrial measures at 13 state childcare centres, despite a court order prohibiting the union from carrying out any industrial actions.

The latest measures come amidst an ongoing dispute between the union and the Foundation for Educational Services (FES) on the working conditions of child carers.

Speaking to MaltaToday, Isabelle Farrugia, a spokeswoman for the union’s education arm, explained that the union and the FES have been negotiating a new collective agreement for six months – only for negotiations to be brought to an abrupt halt as a result of the continuous changes within the FES’s administration.

On Saturday, the FES insisted that the union’s industrial action was unfounded because in February, a court had barred the government and the UHM from negotiating child-carers’ conditions.

In addition, MaltaToday is informed that on Saturday, a judge partially upheld a warrant of prohibitory injunction filed by the Malta Union of Teachers (MUT) against the UHM, the FES, and the Public Administrative Collective Bargaining Unit (PACBU). The MUT is claiming that it enjoys the support of the majority of the childcarers.   

In its decree, the court, ruled that no industrial were to be carried out by either party until a final decision is given on Tuesday. However, when contacted by MaltaToday, UHM spokeswoman Isabelle Farrugia insisted that the union was unaware of the decree, and consequently, the industrial action will go ahead.

Farrugia explained that the latest measures have been ordered as a result of the lack of health and safety measures, inferior working conditions, and due to an impasse in negotiations over a new collective agreement.

“As is customary, the union sent its proposals for a new collective agreement in June, six months before the collective agreement was due to expire in December. However, since then, three new CEO’s have been appointed, and consequently, negotiations have had to start afresh every time,” Farrugia held.

The UHM spokeswoman explained that in October, then-CEO Roderick Agius was replaced by Charles Micallef. Two months later Micallef was replaced by current CEO Elizabeth Pisani.

Agius was transferred from the Foundation for Educational Services (FES) after a board of inquiry tasked with investigating the problems in SkolaSajf ruled that there was total chaos and Agius’s position was “no longer tenable.”

But the union has insisted that amidst all the changes, the workers are still getting the short end of the stick, and consequently, an industrial action was the only viable option. As of tomorrow – Monday March 8 – state childcare centres will remain closed until 10am.

Workers have also been instructed not to reply to any emails or answer any phone calls. Administration workers and co-ordinators have been ordered not to take any instructions from their superiors, while child carers have been ordered to ignore the current child-to-teacher ratio.

“Whenever a childcarer is ill or absent, their work has to be taken over by the other carers, resulting in an unmanageable ratio,” Farrugia explained. The UHM spokeswoman also explained that full-time workers only work 30 hours while other working conditions leave much to be desired.

“The UHM has ordered these measures because the FES and PACBU have been dragging their feet for far too long. The UHM is not excluding any further directives if this disagreement persists,” the union warned.

The childcare centres affected by the industrial action are: Il-Bejta Smart Kids, Cospicua; It-Tbissima Smart Kids, Qormi; Birkirkara Smart Kids; Il-Pespus Smart Kids, Marsa; Vittoriosa Smart Kids; Pizzi Pizzi Kanna Smart Kids, Naxxar; Qawra Smart Kids; Is-Sardinella Smart Kids, San Ġwann; Id-Denfil Smart Kids, Siġġiewi; Il-Qawsalla Smart Kids Gżira; Il-Bebbuxu Smart Kids, Santa Venera; Il-Merill Childcare Centre, Pembroke and It-Tgħanniqa Smart Kids, Floriana.