Updated 1.30am with MUT's reaction to Friday's meeting

The teachers' union said it has held a "productive" meeting with the authorities, as a strike it ordered on Wednesday entered its second day.

Over the past two days most state school teachers did not clock in for work after the government refused to move lessons online despite a spike in detected COVID-19 cases.

Called by the Malta Teachers’ Union, the industrial action is supported by the Union of Professional Educators – Voice of the Workers.

Talks between the MUT and the Prime Minister late on Thursday were inconclusive and resumed today. During Thursday's meeting, it transpired that a senior health official had provided the education authorities with advice about the reopening of schools, the union said.

Following "confirmation of the existence of this communication", in the presence of representatives of independent and Church schools, the union called on the health authorities to analyse the advice and present its findings in the presence of statistician Vincent Marmarà.

On Friday afternoon, MUT's president Marco Bonnici said the latest discussions were productive and the union will now discuss the way forward.

'Charmaine Gauci did not tell us to close schools'

Meanwhile, in a recorded episode of Xtra, the Education Minister berated the short notice of the teachers' industrial action, saying the ministry had taken the tough decision to reopen schools, especially in light of working parents.

Justyne Caruana called for good sense to prevail, dismissing claims that the government was going against health officials’ advice in its decision to reopen schools.

"Ultimately, if the health authorities confirmed that there are protocols in place that allow us to open schools, there was no need to go to the extreme and call a strike.

"Superintendent for Public Health Charmaine Gauci did not tell us to close schools. Had she told me we should close schools, I would have closed schools."

On Thursday MUT deemed the strike a big success, after scenes of confusion met the few pupils who turned up at state schools. Some were turned away at the gates by school staff as no teachers had clocked in.

MUT insisted that it was insulting for the ministry to declare that online teaching was not of sufficient quality, undermining the efforts of educators in the past months.  

Later in the day, the union said Caruana had visited Gozitan schools, met with staff and thanked “the dedicated teachers that she had met”. While this was nothing but a media stunt, it was clear that she disregarded the rights of those following industrial action, MUT said.

“MUT is extremely disappointed by this attitude, which does not augur well for cordial relations between the union and the new minister,” it said.

In a separate statement, the Maltese Association of Parents of State School Students expressed concern that despite “various assurances” by the Education Ministry that the system was in place for teaching to shift online overnight should the need arise, they were suddenly being told that the online system was not up to scratch.

The association called on all parties to work together “to ensure a win-win situation and to respect the fundamental right of education for children”.

Employers call for 'immediate resolution'

On Friday morning, the Malta Employers’ Association called on the government and MUT to "seek an immediate resolution".

The current dispute, it said, was depriving children of education and creating hardships for companies and parents who had to reschedule their work commitments without notice.

The association blamed the current impasse on "lack of dialogue between the parties which should have planned in advance for an expected surge in COVID cases following the festive season, rather than throwing such matters on the table just before schools were scheduled to open".

"If the ministry is saying that online learning had mixed success due to different levels of commitment by teachers, action should have been taken against a minority that took advantage of the situation, rather than tarnishing everyone with the same brush.

"On the other hand, the union has to acknowledge that the ultimate losers of this situation are the students, who have already suffered disruptions in their education during 2020, and certainly cannot afford a repetition this year."

Companies could not be expected to adapt overnight to a situation where many employees simply cannot turn up for work because of this chaos, it said.

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