The Union of Professional Educators – Voice of the Workers, was pleased to see that Clubclass owner Joe Aquilina, 48 hours after the protest took place, took the time to take back the derogatory comment he posted against his own teachers, and publically apologise for what he claimed to be a burst of anger lasting no more than 20 minutes, after which he deleted the post. In his subsequent attempt to justify that burst of anger, he did not have any qualms at attempting to discredit the work that the UPE has been doing to restore a semblance of stability to the sector in these exceptional times, duly misquoting and misinterpreting information which if he had taken the time to follow, he would have realised was not all directed towards Clubclass.
Over two months ago, the Union of Professional Educators – Voice of the Workers, initiated the call for recognition with the DIER. He was called upon by the DIER to submit his part of the documentation, something which any employer is obliged to do within 48 hours from the notification by the DIER. Joe Aquilina did not comply, and still has not complied to date.
At this time, the CEO of the union made various attempts at contacting the employer, only to be abruptly brushed off as being a nuisance which Joe Aquilina felt he needn’t bother about. That speaks volumes in terms of how much he really respects the teachers in his employment, who required of him only to submit a list of names to gain recognition, based on majority. They want to be recognised as a group which can call in representation when the need arises. This continues to be denied to them.
Joe Aquilina was also contacted by the ELT Council and FELTOM. The advice coming from both of these organisations was not taken on board, and was actually ignored by the Clubclass owner. Another communication, this time coming from the DIER itself, in which he was asked to attend a reconciliatory meeting with the UPE, was ignored. He did not respond at all, thus leaving everyone hanging upon his leisure. On the day of the meeting proposed by the DIER, the union executives contacted the DIER asking about the link to the Zoom meeting which should have been taking place on the day. The union was informed that Joe Aquilina had not responded, and that no communication, until that point in time, had been issued from his end stating that he could not attend, or that he would have liked to reschedule.
His own teachers were gutted at that blatant act of disregard not only towards them, but also towards entities like ELT Council and FELTOM, and the disrespect he had shown also towards a government department.
Clubclass seemed to feel that communication with the union, via digital or conventional mail, as well as over the phone, was something he could choose to not respond to at any point in time. Everything that did not strike his immediate interest was thus brushed off as inconsequential: everyone trying to convince him otherwise was given the cold shoulder, with an arrogance which should not be condonable with anyone, let alone with those whom he himself claimed have been loyal to his business. Some of this “uninteresting” communication which he rudely brushed off still sits in the UPE files, as Joe Aquilina had conventional registered mail returned to sender, unopened,
In his post, Joe Aquilina said “but what hurt the most was knowing that these teachers are being used by someone else to forward his own personal agenda at our expense”. The union would like to clarify that its being there had a very specific purpose in mind, that of supporting the lack of communication and recognition being offered by Clubclass. The union also has its own agenda which is that of safeguarding and protecting the whole sector, over and above the issues that Clubclass has presented. It was for this reason that other situations were mentioned in the union’s press release, but at no point in time was Clubclass finger-pointed as having all of the issues mentioned. On the contrary the group’s repeated and unified cry was for recognition to happen now, without any expectation of their being silenced.
Contrary to what Joe Aquilina seems to believe, placards were handed out randomly, and the people holding them up did so in support of their colleagues at Clubclass and not only as a personal statement. Protests are, after all, a unified voice for larger numbers, not a personal march supporting only and exclusively the person’s own situation.
Joe Aquilina also stated that discussions had not failed, because they had never been initiated in the first place. What he did fail to mention in this statement was that he had resisted all attempts at initiating any communication. Thus he is right to say that they had not failed, given that his part in inhibiting the whole communication process had been a catalyst to the protest taking place.
The main aim of the UPE is to strengthen and maintain the sustainability of the EFL sector by improving working conditions and abolishing, once and for all, precarious working conditions. His claim of having half of the teaching staff on contracts which are not zero-hour contracts does not, in any way, exempt him from being considered yet another employer trying to keep up this unacceptable practice.
Joe Aquilina tried to emphasise that he had never refused recognition, but facts speak louder than words when one sees that he did not take the time to submit the part of the documentation necessary to the DIER: this is a process which should have been completed within 48 hours of the notification by the DIER. Just to clarify, 48 hours means 2 days and not 2 months. The UPE submitted its paperwork on the 11th of May 2020, so how can the union not object when around a month ago he proposed a meeting which would take place a month later. Again, the union reiterates, 48 hours are 2 days not 2 months extendible to 3 months, at a whim.
Joe Aquilina seems to feel that his school is very much in line with the guidelines forwarded by the ELT Council. Yet, many of our members beg to differ on what he considers compliance to the guidelines. The union is in possession of photographic evidence proving that social distancing is not being respected, and members have repeatedly contacted us, telling us that masks are not being worn and that ventilation in the classrooms is insufficient. If Joe Aquilina is right, then he should not worry that the union has asked the OHSA to send inspectors to verify his level of compliance through unannounced spot-checks. Just to put Joe Aquilina’s mind at rest that he is not being targeted, this is something which the UPE has asked for all of the EFL schools and not just Clubclass.
The Clubclass owner, tried to gain people’s sympathy through the fact that he had not made anyone redundant, but had kept everyone on his books. He did not mention, however, that he had not done so primarily because of the COVID wage supplement, without which he would probably have had to resort to redundancies. It would be nice to recollect that when the supplements were announced, English Language Schools in Malta were not included in Annex A and B, and 0-hour contracts were not contemplated when these institutions were finally included in Annex A. It was only through the repeated interventions and the insistence of the UPE that EFL teachers on 0-hour contracts had been granted a part-time COVID wage supplement.
Joe Aquilina seemed to be very concerned about the fact that the teachers had shied away from speaking to the press after the press conference. This was ultimately the teachers’ choice as the press did ask them for any additional comments, but they refused to do so, as what the President of the UPE had said had been exhaustive of what needed to be said. What the union finds precious in this statement is how Joe Aquilina himself did not bother to come down to address the press, but preferred to ghost, and watch, while sending one of his subordinates to hand over a written statement as stealthily as he could.
The UPE hopes that Joe Aquilina will finally collaborate with the DIER so as to start the process of recognition as soon as possible. In the meantime, the UPE is planning a meeting with its members working at Clubclass, so as to discuss what the way forward needs to be: the UPE is, after all, the Voice of the Workers, and all decisions are taken through consultation, dialogue, and vote.