The ESSDE delegate from Malta is Kevin Bonello, President of the Malta Union of Teachers, MUT.

Kevin, please, tell us about yourself and describe what a typical work day looks like for you!

I am not sure how to describe my typical day at work, but for an outsider it must look quite like chaos.  The day at the office, which starts at around 8.30am for me, is based on what I have learned to concede as an integral part of a union president's life, and that is the phenomenon of interruptions.  The first thing I usually (attempt to) do is to reply to emails.  Emails are numerous.  We have no regional officers that can tackle local issues at schools, so emails will range from petty issues like members complaining that a colleague does not want to help out in  a sports day because she is overweight (seriously) to very serious policy challenging emails and exchanges with the government.  In a rare occasion where there are no interruptions it takes me around 2 hours to clear emails.  This actually means that most usually I am still replying to emails by 5.30 pm or more.

Indeed once my backside meets the office chair it seems that members all over the country get some alert on their smart phone, because suddenly telephone calls start flooding in.  Very often I have two lines on the go and my mobile phone too.  In the majority of cases I would need to literally close my eyes and try to listen to the person at the other end of the call to try to understand what I am being told in the first attempt and save some time.  Many people that call appear to think that I should remember their case which they shared with me weeks before, or to think that I know what is happening in their school by default.

While replying to emails as well as a multitude of telephone calls you need to think about upcoming meetings, some of which are crucial in reaching an agreement on some important issue.  Meetings take up a lot of time for me and my colleagues, and the topic will undoubtedly vary.  Sometimes we discuss crucial national issues, sometimes we discuss a very sad case of a member with a life terminating illness, sometimes we have bargaining meetings on which thousands of members depend, well, you get my point, you name it and we do it.

The best part would be when I need to attend some important meeting abroad, where I do this peculiar practice of sending emails to myself on a personal address, with the documents concerned, saving them, and then attempting to read them on the plane.  I do acknowledge that this practice is somewhat silly, but it ensures that these mails do not get lost in an ocean of other emails, and at the same time it facilitates matters when it comes to retrieving them offline.  My dream is to have a research department that would give me all the details I need to know and deliver before such meetings, saving me hours of time, dream on!

Many times we are also visiting work places, one of my main priorities.  Sometimes we face a staffroom full of angry persons who would have been annoyed by some administrational slip up, or some union slip up for that matter.  Sometimes we are faced by supportive people who appreciate what we try to do.  Nevertheless I get to know what my members want and feel and this is much better than any statistical research, which anyway we have little resources to carry out.

I am lucky to have a very strong supporting senior vice president who has taken up a huge burden in implementing all the decisions concerning the union's physical building, and migration to a new building, our IT infrastructure, and many other important things that in most European unions are carried out by a whole legion of people.  I am also lucky to be surrounded by a hard working general secretary and vice president and a magnificent secretariat which is small in number but large in motivation and dedication.

One important thing during a typical day is lunch.  When at the Union offices, I force myself out of the office every day at around 1pm, take some colleagues with me, and we relax our brains and satisfy the needs of the stomach for a short while (I know this shows).  In this period I do sometimes ignore my mobile phone, but that is not always possible.  So, this is a little glimpse of my work life! If you guys have potential union leaders who would like to observe everything a union does in just half a dozen rooms, we will gladly accept observers!

How long have you been involved for in social dialogue both at national and at European level?

I have been involved in social dialogue in Malta since 2005 and at a European level since 2011.

What is the current situation with regard to the education social dialogue in Malta?

The situation is good with regards to dialogue, although this may not necessarily reflect the situation when it comes to implementation.  We have a very strong union membership percentage wise and this gives us the strength and courage to keep doing this otherwise incredibly hard job.  Our percentage strength also gives us credibility in negotiation and a high degree of leeway.

What are the main issues at stake for MUT?

Perhaps the biggest issue for us at the moment is to try and keep up with all the fronts that we have.  We represent educators in all education sectors and this is a very arduous task.  Moreover the general failure of the one size fits all system used for decades needs a huge overhaul and we are bracing ourselves for a massive reform in education which will change completely the teaching methods used, and the whole culture in schools.

What opportunities does your engagement in the ESSDE possibly open up for your work at home and vice versa?

The ESSDE gives us an opportunity to understand what is going on in other countries, share good experiences and learn from peers.  Moreover we also get an insight into what employers across Europe are pushing for.

With regards to the very new ESSDE work program 2016-17, what topic lies at the heart of the concerns of MUT members and why?

This is a tricky question.  I strongly believe that the need of research should be first and foremost on any agenda.  The lack of research, added in our case to the lack of resources, sometimes drives us to take decisions and form policies based on information which is not always verified or proven.  This puts us at a disadvantage both in social dialogue but also in aiding schools where they need most.

In a nutshell: What makes a good dialogue?

  • Strong union membership which is well informed of what the union is trying to do.  Strong memberships make the union credible and able to take industrial action when needed.
  • Thinking! Social dialogue and bargaining is like chess.  Every serious trade unionist must be able to predict possible outcomes from every discussion, way before the discussion starts.
  • Partnership approach as against opponent approach.  Unions must come out with an agenda of cooperation, while strongly defending and possibly improving workers' rights.  Starting on the defensive or aggressively in a dialogue will ultimately be your undoing.  Always leave your door ajar
  • No strings attached.  A trade union without any ties to political parties is likely to be much more credible and likely to achieve much more than trade unions with ties to political parties.  A Union needs to be able to put itself in a position where it can praise good decisions of any party in government while criticizing the same for any bad decisions.