[WATCH] Education Minister berates short notice strike action, calls for good sense to prevail

Xtra on TVM | Education Minister insists there was no direction by health to keep schools closed • Opposition spokesperson accuses government of hard-headedness

Education Minister Justyne Caruana
Education Minister Justyne Caruana

Justyne Caruana berated the short notice of the Malta Union of Teachers’ industrial action, as she called on stakeholders to exhibit good sense and responsibility.

The Education Minister dismissed MUT claims that the government is going against health officials’ advice in its decision to reopen schools after the holidays.

“Prof. Charmaine Gauci explained the situation and also explained very clearly that there was no reason why schools had to close,” she said.

Caruana was speaking on TVM’s Xtra on Thursday evening. The programme was recorded before a meeting that was held at Castille this evening with the MUT and which proved inconclusive.

READ ALSO: School strike still on as MUT talks with government prove 'inconclusive'

She insisted that the government will always abide by the advice given by the health authorities but stressed there was no need for the MUT to go to the lengths and extremes that they have taken. 

“Ultimately, if the health authorities are telling me that there are protocols in place that allow us to open schools, there was no need to go to the extreme of ordering a strike,” she said. 

The minister said due to the protocols in place, schools were actually the safest place for children to be. The recent spike in COVID-19 cases was not a result of school activity but rather due to circumstances that took place while schools were shut for the holidays.

Asked by presenter Saviour Balzan about the legitimacy of the union’s industrial action, Caruana argued that the basis of their justification puts it in question.

“If the basis of this action is because of health questions, we had Prof. Charmaine Gauci who did not tell us to close schools… If she had done so we would have closed them, but since this pronouncement did not happen, one would have expected that there would be more time for dialogue,” Caruana said.

The minister also criticised the MUT for the short notice they gave for their demands to be met, arguing that parents were left wondering what to do with their children just hours before schools were expected to return.

“The MUT decided to go ahead with its industrial action just a few hours before the school doors were supposed to open, and so one can appreciate the concerns that arose for us to see what could be done with the children in the context of working parents who could not make arrangements in the few hours they had,” she said.

READ ALSO: Parents vent anger and frustration at school strike, government inaction and lax attitudes

Caruana said all state schools opened with attendance of teachers, LSEs, and students varying between different schools.

She added that the government drafted in other human resources to ensure that children will be supervised in the absence of teachers, and insisted that, after having analysed the statistical data of absentee teachers, the government will now be in a better position to tackle the challenges presented by the MUT’s industrial action.

Caruana thanked educators who turned up for work anyway, while voicing an appeal for good sense and responsibility to be shown by all stakeholders involved. 

Clyde Puli slams government’s ‘hard-headedness’

Opposition education spokesperson Clyde Puli
Opposition education spokesperson Clyde Puli

Opposition education spokesperson Clyde Puli defended the MUT’s demands as being “reasonable”, while berating the government for displaying a large degree of hard-headedness and lack of transparency.

“We find ourselves in this situation because of circumstances that we have no control over like the pandemic, but also because of the hard-headedness shown by the government and lack of transparency from its end,” he said.

The Nationalist MP argued that the union’s actions should be regarded in a context that includes a record number of COVID-19 cases in recent days, declarations made by the health authorities that Malta could see around 200 cases per day for the next two weeks, a lack of enforcement and excessive intermingling that took place over the Christmas holidays, and the new virus variant that, according to come sources, may have a greater effect on children.

“In this context, I think that the appeal of the MUT was reasonable,” he said, pointing out that the union merely asked for schools to go online for two days until the situation could be better assessed. 

Questioned by Balzan as to whether he agrees that children’s place should be in schools, Puli argued that while it is evident that direct contact learning is superior to online learning in a number of instances, one needs to take the particular circumstances into consideration. 

“It’s easy to say that school is better, of course school is better, but if circumstances are dictating that there could be danger, then that’s another matter,” he said.

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