The government said it will be footing the legal bill of three members of the Industrial Tribunal after they were personally named in a court case sparked by the Union of Professional Educators (UPE).
On Saturday, social dialogue parliamentary secretary Andy Ellul said that personally naming members of the tribunal in court proceedings was improper as they were acting in their professional capacity when they made their decision against the UPE.
This set a "dangerous legal precedent" and was tantamount to "intimidation," Ellul said, naming the UPE lawyers as Therese Comodini Cachia and Jason Azzopardi.
"As the politician responsible for the Industrial Tribunal, I can never accept any form of pressure or intimidation, not only against these members but on every other member who forms part of this tribunal," he said.
Ellul said that instead of opening the case against a government department, the lawyers also cited the chairperson and two members.
"They did so not as witnesses but as respondents and not in their professional capacity but in their personal capacity; this is a very dangerous legal precedent," Ellul said.
The decision came after the three tribunal members asked the government for legal protection.
The UPE filed constitutional proceedings as it tries to revoke an Industrial Tribunal decision that prevents it from representing LSEs.
Despite the Department of Industrial and Employment Relations confirming that the union actually represented the majority of LSEs in state employment, the tribunal concluded that this particular category of educators could not be considered as a "separate bargaining unit".
UPE took their grievance to court, claiming that the tribunal's decision violated the union's right of representation.
Besides the State Advocate, the Director General for Educational Services and the director of the Department of Industrial and Employment Relations (DIER) as respondents, tribunal chairperson Harold Walls and members Bryony Balzia Bartolo and Lawrence Mizzi are mentioned in the constitutional case.
The UPE argues that all three have other government appointments.
"These appointments bring to doubt their independence and impartiality in their decision of the dispute against a government entity," the union's court application says.
On Saturday, Ellul said that this argument is only used so that members of the board can not fulfil their functions in a "serene way".
Walls, the chairperson in the case, has served in this role for 25 years and was reconfirmed repeatedly by the Employment Relations Board, Ellul said.
The court application seen by Times of Malta says that Walls is director of Industrial Projects Services Ltd and part of the negotiating team in the Public Administration Collective Bargaining Unit.
Byrony Balzan had several political appointments as spokesperson for minister Owen Bonnici, secretary for the data protection tribunal, an employee of the housing authority, and the beneficiary of a government contract granted by direct order, the court application says.
Lawrence Mizzi sits on the Council of Europe's Permanent Representatives Committee, on the National Employment Authority Board and is chairman of Resources Support and Services Ltd, a state entity.
The three tribunal members appealed for "protection, help and assistance" from the country's highest authorities after being personally identified in the court case.
In a short statement after the press conference, the UPE said the court case was opened because of the tribunal's lack of independence and impartiality.
"The UPE thanks the government for proving this morning that the industrial tribunal is not independent and impartial."