Education authorities have lost their bid to obtain a warrant of prohibitory injunction to block industrial action by teachers following an industrial dispute registered by the Malta Union of Teachers. 

This was the outcome of a decree delivered by the First Hall, Civil Court on Thursday, two days after verbal submissions were made before Mr Justice Neville Camilleri by lawyers representing the Ministry of Education and the MUT as well as the Union of Professional Educators. 

The issue stemmed from an eleventh-hour decision by authorities to redeploy peripatetic educators so as to plug a shortage of teachers in primary schools. 

That move prompted the MUT to register an industrial dispute which, in turn, sparked judicial proceedings by the education authorities in a bid to block union directives by means of an injunction.

Lawyers for the applicants argued that directives by the teachers’ union would have a national impact, pointing out that redeployment was to be only a temporary measure that would be reverted once the pandemic was over. 

If the industrial action were to go ahead, there would be “hundred classes without a teacher”, the applicants’ lawyers argued.

But the union lawyers rebutted that redeployment would negatively impact particular students with special needs or young cancer patients in hospital, who would end up without an educator. 

Moreover, the applicants had to prove the irremediable prejudice that would be faced by government if the injunction were to be denied. 

When decreeing upon the issue, the court said that it shared the applicants’ view that Malta was battling a global pandemic that had upset every aspect of everyday life and that measures issued by the health authorities needed to be assessed from time to time. 

In the current scenario, the court acknowledged the State’s duty to provide education, but at the same time it also acknowledged the union’s right to issue directives and to ensure that its primary function of safeguarding members’ rights was not removed.

During submissions in court, reference was made to a decree delivered earlier in the week in respect of a similar dispute concerning the nurses’ union. 

Both education and health are important, but that decree did not necessarily apply in this case, observed Mr Justice Camilleri, adding that there was a far more serious and irremediable danger where health was concerned.

The court was not satisfied that the education authorities had the prima facie right that was a necessary requisite for the injunction to be confirmed and nor did they prove the irremediable prejudice they would suffer through the teachers’ union directives. 

The court revoked the injunction that had been provisionally upheld and ordered the applicants to shoulder the costs. 

Lawyers Keith Borg and Rebecca Mercieca assisted the MUT. Lawyers David Camilleri, Marion Camilleri and Franco Debono assisted the UPE. Lawyers James D’Agostino and Dennis Zammit assisted the applicants.

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