The Union of Professional Educators, back in June 2020, had lodged a complaint against the Ministry of Education for discriminating against the union and the members it represents. The union had formally requested to have access to schools, a request which should have been treated as a cordial formality granted by virtue of the nature of the work done by the union, but which was wilfully ignored by three consecutive Ministers of Education ever since the union was formed.
The complaint, which had been forwarded to the Ombudsman, comprised the systematic denial of facilities, as required by law, for the Union of Professional Educators by the MEDE, and/or DES, to carry out its trade-unionistic work including, but not limited to, the denial or otherwise lack of timely authorization or permission for union officials:
- To visit places of work of its members:
- To hold meetings for its members at the place of work during break or recess time:
- To otherwise communicate with its members at the place of work:
- To transmit its union materials/communications to the places of work:
- To be afforded the same exposure and facilities afforded to other trade unions as a matter of course.
The Ombudsman, in his ruling, confirmed that there has indeed been a long-standing practice of discrimination against the Union of Professional Educators by the Ministry of Education, and that depriving the union of its fundamental rights goes beyond the issues of mere industrial relations, or potential industrial relations disputes, but has been putting the very heart of fundamental democratic principles and rule of law at stake.
He further added that it is the obligation of the State to ensure that in “the exercise of the right to freedom of association a union is not improperly hindered in the exercise of its function to communicate with its members and that, correspondingly, its members are allowed to benefit from unhindered communication with union officials”. He concluded that any differential treatment, as has been reserved to the UPE, on these matters, was nothing more than a “capricious and improper” practice.
The Ombudsman highlighted the fact that the ratification to Protocol No. 12 to the European Convention of Human Rights, which had been signed by the Maltese State, and which prohibits “all forms of discrimination in the enjoyment not only of human rights but also of ‘any right set forth by law’” was being breached by the Ministry of Education when discriminating so blatantly against the Union of Professional Educators.
Following the official ruling by the Ombudsman himself, it has thus been rendered official that the UPE has the right to all that which it had forwarded for review, and it will henceforth exercise the right it is granted by law to see its members in schools.
It is to be noted that the signatory of the statement issued is none less than the Chief Justice Emeritus, Vincent A. De Gaetano, who is not only the Commissioner for Education but also a person whose high profile sees his name inscribed as Judge within the European Court of Human Rights in respect of Malta, and who by virtue of the position he carried can only be considered the highest authority in any ruling against breaches in Human Rights.