Industrial relations

Malta: Latest developments in working life Q2 2019

Uncertainty over the time frame of the ongoing refurbishment at Mount Carmel Hospital, a dispute regarding the workload of teachers and the publication of a report about foreign workers in Malta are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Malta in the second quarter of 2019.

Nurses threaten industrial action

The Malta Union for Midwives and Nurses (MUMN) threatened to take industrial action if the government did not provide the union with details about the time frame of the ongoing refurbishment project at the state psychiatric hospital (Mount Carmel Hospital). The refurbishment was badly needed, as there had been consistent reports that the hospital was in a very poor state of repair and that it lacked the necessary infrastructure for nurses to perform their duties effectively.

MUMN President Paul Pace stated that the project had caused some wards to become overcrowded, making it difficult for nurses to provide their patients with the proper care. The union claimed that the pressures the nurses were having to cope with had become unbearable.[1]

Minister for Health Chris Fearne acceded to the union’s request and a meeting was held between the officials of the Ministry of Health and the MUMN. During this meeting, the union was provided with the time frame of the refurbishment project, which the ministry claimed was proceeding according to the set objectives. Although the union expressed its scepticism about the progress of the project and the objectives that had been set, it withdrew its threat of industrial action.[2]

Dispute over teachers’ workload

A dispute between the government and the Malta Union of Teachers (MUT) remained unresolved by the time the schools were due to close for the summer holidays. The MUT claimed that teachers were being assigned workloads that exceeded the levels stipulated in the collective agreement. According to this agreement, teachers are expected to have a weekly workload of 24 lessons and a maximum workload of 25 lessons is to apply in exceptional circumstances. The MUT claimed that this maximum workload of 25 lessons had become the norm, especially among those teaching mathematics and Maltese (where there is a shortage of teachers). In view of this, the MUT advised mathematics and Maltese teachers to refrain from setting or correcting the annual examination papers.[3]

Minister for Education and Employment Evarist Bartolo defined this industrial action as disproportionate. He stated that only 3.5% of teachers had been assigned a maximum load of 25 lessons. He further stated that steps were being taken to address the problem of this shortage of teachers.

The Maltese Association of Parents of State School Students (MAPSSS) appealed to the government to implement measures to solve the issue and also pleaded with the MUT to reconsider its industrial action. In spite of this plea, the conciliatory meetings held between the MUT and the Ministry for Education and Employment did not lead to a solution to the dispute.[4] Subsequently, the ministry assigned a group of professional teachers to set and correct the mathematics and Maltese examination papers. This allowed the examinations in both subjects to be held in accordance with the original timetable.

It is likely that the dispute will be put on hold during the summer holidays and will recommence when the schools open again in late September.

Report reveals many foreign workers are transitory

The growing number of foreign workers who are active in the Maltese labour market has been a cause of unease among the Maltese population and politicians for some time.[5] However, a study on foreign workers in Malta, conducted by the Central Bank of Malta, showed that a significant number of these workers are transitory. Between 2002 and 2017, 25% of foreign workers left the Maltese labour market in the same year that they registered as employees. Another 45% left after one or two years. Only 30% remained in the labour market for more than six years after they first found employment. EU nationals generally stayed for shorter periods than others. Skills seemed to positively correlate with length of stay, with the most highly skilled individuals being the least likely to leave.[6]

Commentary

The MUMN’s right to be kept informed about the ongoing project at Mount Carmel Hospital was given legitimacy when the Health Ministry decided to hold discussions with the union, and this bodes well for the completion of the project.

The dispute between the MUT and the government is likely to remain dormant during the summer holidays. By the time the schools reopen again in September, the government is expected to have solved the issue relating to the shortage of teachers.


Footnotes

  1. ^ Times of Malta (2019), Mt Carmel nurses ask for renovation timelines, 24 April.
  2. ^ Times of Malta (2019), Mount Carmel works timelines ‘next week’, 28 April.
  3. ^ Malta Today (2019), Maths and Maltese exams in secondary schools won't be held this year, MUT says, 3 June.
  4. ^ Malta Independent (2019), Education Ministry stands ground on exams; MUT fires back, declares industrial dispute, 4 June.
  5. ^ Eurofound (2018), Malta: latest working life developments Q2 2018.
  6. ^ Borg, I. (2019), The length of stay of foreign workers in Malta, Central Bank of Malta, Valetta, Malta.

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