A judge has warned MCAST and the education ministry not to continue “playing with words” in an effort to thwart a court order which banned them from demoting a lecturer who questioned teaching methods.

Madam Justice Joanne Vella Cuschieri said that although MCAST and education ministry permanent secretary Frank Fabri were trying to justify their decision by saying it was not a transfer but a deployment, the court believed it had the same effect and was banned by a previous court.

This was the latest lap in a court battle between the Malta College for Arts, Science and Technology, the education authorities and geologist Peter Gatt who saw his job at MCAST, where he has lectured in engineering geology, limestone studies and building materials since 2014, suddenly terminated in June.

Targeted efforts to exclude and sideline him had been going on since the last scholastic year when he was given no timetable and no students to teach. He was also ordered by the college deputy principal not to contact students. 

The matter was also investigated by Education Commissioner Vincent De Gaetano who ruled that MCAST’s decision not to assign Gatt any teaching duties and prevent him from contacting students for such a long period of time, while remaining on MCAST’s books, “was an act which was oppressive and tantamount to degrading treatment”.

Gatt claimed in court that pressure to oust him from the college began when he raised concerns about the poor quality of syllabi given by MCAST over the past years.

In particular, he criticised the syllabus of a unit he was asked to lecture and which he insisted was poorly written and lacked focus.

In July, he successfully obtained an injunction barring his transfer to any other school, which would have effectively demoted him to a teacher, after the court upheld his claim that the termination of his employment was a vindictive one.

The court ruled that the termination and order to transfer him to another school was issued after a series of efforts to stop him from teaching and an order banning him from communicating with his students.

Transfer decision was vindictive and a breach of rights - court

On that occasion, the court ruled that the decision to terminate his posting at the college was abusive, vindictive and in breach of his rights.

Despite this court order, in November, Gatt received instructions to start reporting for work at St Ignatius College, in Qormi where he was to carry out administrative work. This forced him to go back to court to obtain another injunction following the one he obtained after he was ordered to report for work at the Pembroke secondary school.

In her ruling, Madam Justice Vella Cuschieri said the previous court order was clear.

MCAST and Fabri’s lawyers had argued that Gatt was not being transferred to a school since the college did not qualify as a school.

However, this argument earned them a stern warning from the judge, who told them to “stop playing with words”.

“It is necessary that the defendants stop attempting to play with words to find some way of evading the court’s orders,” the judge said.

“If their worry was that Peter Gatt was being paid without working, this can be easily resolved by giving him a lecturer position at MCAST as he has been doing for several years,” she added.

Lawyer Joseph Sammut appeared for Gatt.

 

 

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