The salary saga continues
So I’m in court again, starting from next week. This time I’m the one who has taken people / entities to court and therefore I must pay the penalty for this cheek by using my allotted personal time off, which I normally use for my children’s parent days etc. Of course, if somebody takes me to court, then I’m entitled to a special leave allowance which is completely separate from my time off allocation. I see the message in this inequity from a mile away. What about you? Do you see the message?
So here is the chronology leading up to me taking this action or being this cheeky, depending on your viewpoint:
September 2010: I move to Malta from Scotland with my family on Friday, 24th September, 2010. On Monday 27th September, 2010, I begin my job as Teacher of Physics at a church school.
September 2010 to August 2013: The culture shock has no end. We are tenants and therefore invisible Arms customers living in our landord’s ‘empty’ second home and I’m an EU mobile teacher. Oh, and also we drove our 2002 Vauxhall Zafira over from the UK and are therefore subject to an extortionate annual circulation licence fee. And no, if we get rid of the car, we’d have to pay the registration tax that we were exempt from because we’d owned it for more than 2 years abroad. So there goes that option. Because Malta is a parallel universe in which the word ‘exemption’ has a completely different meaning to ‘exemption’ everywhere else.
August 2013 to July 2015: My fight to make Arms and my landlord see the error of their ways and to teach them how to behave themselves takes on many forms: I refuse to pay the outstanding so called arrears on the Arms bill on point of principle. I write to successive Arms CEOs, Minister of Energy Konrad Mizzi and the Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. I petition the European Parliament and submit a complaint to the European Commission. I write to the Maltese NAO, the Maltese Office of the Ombudsman, the Maltese Inland Revenue. Nothing doing. Apparently getting Arms to bill tenants correctly is an impossible task, one which is certainly beyond the powers and capabilities of all the institutions mentioned above.
January 2015 to July 2015: The Arms / tenant scam and the setting up of a tenant support group takes up much of my time and energy. Of course, being a tenant in Malta is also not ideal. Plus I have 3 children and a full time job. Therefore, I ignore the niggling feeling that the state was also sanctioning the underpayment of my salary when it ignored my 15 years’ UK teaching experience. However, I begin to tentatively – in my oodles of spare time – question and explore whether my hunch was correct. I have facebook conversations with the then President of the MUT, Kevin Bonello, and what he discloses does not reassure me when it comes to his knowledge of EU freedom of movement of workers. Over the last ten years, this is a common theme. Every single person I expect to be more knowledgeable than me shocks me with their ignorance on their supposed areas of expertise.
July 2015: I watch the first discussion of my petition live in the European Parliamentary Committee of Petitions. My landlord’s case against me comes to an end. Is there some perfect resolution to the surreal situation of having precautionary garnishee orders issued against my salary and our bank accounts simply for disputing a clearly incorrect Arms bill? Is there heck.
July 2015 to January 2017: Now that I’m no longer in court re the Arms arrears, I step up the ante on my teacher salary issue. I hit brick wall after brick wall as the various entities resist my fight for justice. Legalistic nonsense after legalistic nonsense rules the day, the weeks, the months, the years. First the 2013 MUT / MEDE agreement didn’t apply to my case because I had moved from the UK church sector to the Maltese Church sector. Then it was because I had moved from the UK state sector to the Maltese church sector. Kevin Bonello - the president of the Malta Union of Teachers - gives the distinct impression that he’s not very keen on me having my prior UK teaching experience recognised when it came to salary. He tells me that I have no case. In August 2016, the European Commission contradicts him and tells me that I do. In January 2017 I am placed on the correct point of the Teacher Salary Scale taking into account my 15 years’ UK teaching experience. Arrears from September 2013 to December 2016 are also paid.
January 2017 to June 2018: I’m an awkward customer really. So I question why I am not entitled to arrears from September 2010 to September 2013. Malta joined the EU in 2004 so EU freedom of movement of workers was applicable from then. Again legalistic nonsense after legalistic nonsense was the order of the day. Surely I understood that this kind of treatment was also meted out to mobile teachers within Malta? So, there you go. I wasn’t being discriminated against; I was being treated in exactly the same way as mobile teachers within Malta, it was proclaimed. So I raid the Curia of the European Court of Justice case law. And there I come across a case, similar to mine, in which the European Court of Justice gave a preliminary ruling which basically stated that EU law on freedom of movement for workers within the EU “must be interpreted as precluding national legislation…” You see the issue is that all schools in Malta will have a majority of teachers who chose to stay in the same school all their careers, and who therefore were not disadvantaged in the same way as pre 2013 mobile teachers. So I was disadvantaged when compared to a non mobile teacher. I had my 15 years’ UK teaching experience ignored whilst non mobile teachers working in the same school I worked in did not. The conclusion to draw from this is that EU law is more respectful of workers than Maltese law is. If Malta chooses to penalise Malta mobile teachers, that was its own affair – the EU could not interfere in this. However, as this preliminary ruling showed, Malta could not penalise EU mobile teachers in this way. MEDE, my union could quote the 2013 MUT / MEDE agreement till the cows came home. This cannot apply to my case.
June 2018: I submit a complaint to the NCPE, the agency designated by the EU to deal with EU freedom of movement.
March 2019: The NCPE rules in my favour and recommends that I am paid the arrears from September 2010 to September 2013.
March 2019 to November, 2019: MEDE ignores the NCPE recommendations.
November 2019: I file a court case against all concerned.
January 2020: It is now 4 and a half years since I started the fight for equal pay for equal work. When I started my teaching job in Malta, my salary was less than €17000 (gross). This was the salary of a newly qualified teacher straight out of university. It takes a teacher in Malta 20 years to reach the salary ceiling. If I hadn't started this battle, I would still have ten years to go to reach the salary ceiling. I'd have two years to go before retirement. In Malta you have to fight for your fundamental rights. No one - not even or especially not even the state - will tell you your rights. When you insist on your rights, you are resisted every step of the way. You are resisted tooth and nail. You cannot sue for moral damages. It is a shocking state of affairs that I am still having to fight these battles ten years later.
How I wish we didn’t have the toxic PLPN partisanship poisoning everything all the time. The murderous, brazen corruption of the ex Prime Minister, his ex Chief of Staff and others has nothing to do with PN or PL, really. These were men who looked at the situation in Malta with a cold, hard stare and understood what was ripe for the taking. They took advantage of a perfect storm of a stagnant, decaying parliamentary democracy and its weak institutions, and hammered the last nails in its coffin. They took advantage of the idolatry of PL supporters and milked it for all its worth.
Muscat is still milking it today as he negotiates his involvement in a possible Italian football project. Isn’t it interesting how Maltese football has been revealed to be 8th most corrupt in an international study? Has Muscat got some dirty money to launder by any chance?
In a country with no toxic political bipartisanship, we would never have allowed the situation to continue beyond the Panama Papers revelations, let alone the assassination of a journalist. Look at us now – we’re in the situation where not only was a journalist assassinated on the watch of the previous administration but this administration is itself implicated in the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.
So this is strange territory to be in. After a 40 day campaign we have a new prime minister now. The two candidates for the PL leadership were both tainted goods. Both backed a tainted prime minister and did nothing about Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri when in 2016 the Panama Papers revealed that they owned companies in blacklisted jurisdictions.
This is the context we are currently in. It is good that over the last few weeks, we have had the resignations of Joseph Muscat, Keith Schembri, Konrad Mizzi, Laurence Cutajar, Neville Gafa and the exodus from politics of Chris Cardona. But in a normal country all these people would long ago have resigned, been charged and prosecuted for various crimes and dereliction of duty.
We are in strange territory because we should never have got to this point. This is why we find ourselves feeling grateful for the new prime minister allowing the flowers and candles at the Daphne Caruana Galizia memorial to remain there and not be cleared away by the state Cleansing Department. This is why we find ourselves being grateful re the various resignations. When really these people should have been sacked and made to face justice long ago.
So how should we function in this point of space and time that should never have existed? This is the question. How do we bridge the chasm between what has happened and what should have happened years ago?
I hanker for a functioning Malta where what should happen, happens. Where I don’t feel grateful for what should be the norm. I dream of a Malta where we have completely autonomous institutions which step in when they need to step in. Most of all I dream of a Malta without the poisonous bipartisanship being taken advantage of by unscrupulous politicians or worse, imprisoning all our politicians in a dead end race to the bottom, of pandering to the PNPL feudmongering tragedy that has characterised our politics since independence.
Will Robert Abela be the PM that does what is absolutely necessary to break this impasse once and for all? Hope, they say, is the last to die.
In 1980 we had an MLP administration and I was a student in Form III. Even then an MLP administration had a pervasively negative effect on my life and the lives of those around me. The PM of the day, Dom Mintoff, decided that a school leaving certificate in Arabic and an O level in Physics were compulsory entrance requirements for the state sixth form and / or University. Additionally, students in church schools were discriminated against and needed more points than state school students to be eligible for university entrance.
Looking back on my years of being a student and then a teacher, I can see that I have always loved learning for the sake of learning. I remember being daunted by having to learn the Arabic alphabet and then pass an exam in the subject in less than 2 years. But mostly I couldn’t understand the point of it all. I resented the pointlessness of learning a paragraph for my ‘composition’ by heart and reproducing it in the exam. Also, matching the text of the comprehension questions with the text of the comprehension without comprehending the text at all so went against the grain. I went from a very laid back, successful student to an exam phobic student and struggled over quite a few years until I regained my self-confidence. I never attended university in Malta. Instead I attended university in London when I was 26 years old and a single parent.
My father and other relatives also went through a spell of turmoil because their act of Civil Disobedience on 29th June, 1982 meant that they lost their jobs or were transferred or suspended. I remember attending PN rallies with my family. I remember being jeered at by other children when returning home from school in my St Dorothy’s Convent uniform. Those teenage years were blighted for me and cast a long shadow over the years to come.
Today I am in the same frame of mind I was in those years. Politicians are meant to serve the country, to act in the best interests of the common good. I see the opposite. I saw the opposite when I was a child too. People aren’t meant to live in a state of apprehension, of worry because of the behaviour of politicians.
Yesterday’s North Korea style final speech of Joseph Muscat was sinister in the extreme. This is a prime minister voted Person of the Year for organised crime and corruption by the OCCRP. And yet he had an audience of adoring fans applauding his manipulative speech. Worse – at the end of it all, PL MPs were compelled to exercise their tear duct muscles and weep, and / or embrace him tightly. How craven are our MPs, obliging until the bitter end.
Be under no misapprehension – the reason for Joseph Muscat’s 40 days of notice was to consolidate his narrative of lies, to bolster his support from the people while he destroyed or hid evidence of wrongdoing. It is said that if you repeat a lie often enough, then it becomes truth. The whole sham had one sole purpose: Fearne or Abela had to see that if they turn against him, then the people – his people – will turn against them. Because, of course, Joseph Muscat has no compunction in cynically and coldly using the adoration of ‘his’ people for his own personal ends.
I cannot help but come to the conclusion that there is something fundamentally wrong with PL. I see a thuggish, murderous, anti democratic, authoritarian political party that harms the very fabric of our way of life whenever it is in power. I hold very little hope that Chris Fearne or Robert Abela will be able to get Malta back on some kind of functioning track.
History will tell you that another political wilderness is beckoning for PL. Hopefully this will be an eternal wilderness. If lessons weren’t learnt from their time in power in the 80s, how on earth are lessons going to be learnt from their even more scandalous, murderous time in power over the last 6 and something years?
On facts and opinions
So I'm chipping in a Facebook conversation, as you do, on the Egrant inquiry. Basically I'm correcting the idea that the Egrant report concludes that Egrant does not belong to the Muscats. I am stating a fact - "Ma nstabx" means "It was not found". This does not translate to "Innocent". In fact, a magisterial inquiry, by its very nature, can never come up with a verdict of innocent or guilty. All well and good. We'd been here before. They knew they were not going to win this argument.
But then, I decided to push it a little further. I declared that, in light of all the circumstantial evidence, I believed that Egrant did in fact belong to the Muscats.
Of course, the person on the other end of this discussion went all hyperbolic. Exclamation marks and capital letters were in full flow. I had no right to believe anything, it was proclaimed.
The point is that if I have formed an opinion, based on circumstantial evidence and a weighing up of the various versions and the motivations of the various protagonists, then this is my opinion. I would like to think that it is a well informed opinion. Of course it is not yet fact. Possibly it will never be. But that's because Joseph Muscat - the accused - was effectively in charge of the magisterial inquiry. To me it was a brazen orchestration. To me, Joseph Muscat setting the terms, deciding when, and probably deciding who would conduct a magisterial inquiry is another count against him. It smacks of guilt.
So am I not entitled to express this opinion? There is a distinction to be made between absolute fact and opinion, of course. If the opinion is in my head, why should I not express it? Is this not a warping of what is meant by freedom of expression?
All I'm doing is stating what many people are thinking. And I'm going to say what I'm thinking. Not out of malice. Not at all. But because I want to express my thoughts.
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
We have to challenge the mistaken idea that people have to speak only about facts, that journalists can only write about facts. There is a fascist tendency I see all over facebook - and not just in Malta - where attempts are made to suppress freedom of expression. If you are clear that it is an opinion, and that you are not stating facts, then this cannot be subject to a defamation case. You have every right to state what you think.
Language is such a powerful tool in the hands of the manipulators. We've got to fight back somehow.
Skimming the scum
Recently I used the Christmas turkey carcass to make a stock. As the scum rose to the surface, I skimmed it away. Scum rising to the surface. Then the skimming of the scum. Funny how the metaphors come from nowhere or mundane tasks like skimming the scum.
There's plenty of scum trying to rise to the surface. Every day some new outrage or some new revelation. Meanwhile a few people on Facebook try to give a flattering spin to these stories. They're in denial, you see.
So, of course, according to these people, the culprits are not Joseph Muscat or Keith Schembri. Or maybe they are but they're only slightly in the wrong. The people definitely in the wrong are the protesters scaring away customers and destroying the economy. And by the way, the protesters are all PN supporters, chomping at the bit and foaming at the mouth at what they see as an opportunity to be the government again.
So what if Muscat spent upwards of €20000 on first class flights for a 3 day Dubai holiday? You're just jealous. So what if Muscat uses his diplomatic passport to travel to Bethlehem, the Vatican and London in the days since he's announced his resignation? Nothing suspicious about this at all. So what if he was meant to supervise the day to day running of the country in the weeks leading to his resignation?
So what if the person who is allegedly (one of) the commissioners of the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia gave Muscat a Bvlgari watch worth upwards of €20000 in 2014? Or was invited to Muscat's birthday party in February 2019 when Muscat had known for months that Fenech was a murder suspect? Or gave very expensive Petrus bottles of wine as a birthday present? What business is it of yours? He works so hard.
On and on the defense of the indefensible continues. This has been the case for years now. It's exhausting and debilitating.
So it's refreshing to be in a crowd of people who do not defend the indefensible. Who recognise the dangers of the situation our country is in. Who understand the difficulty of the challenge ahead of us. But face it down with a stoicism and a determination anyway. It's good to be in this crowd. The speeches are a balm to the low spirits, a confirmation that your apprehensions are real, a blasting away of the gaslighting of the PL diehards. The concert amplifies the impact of this lift in spirits. The lyrics, sung collectively, are cathartic.
We will prevail. Is-sewwa jirbaħ żgur. It will take an unknown amount of time but we will ultimately build a Malta 2.0 together. One which will function as it is supposed to. We will continue to apply pressure on Abela or Fearne in the years to come. We will direct the way for them, on the off chance that they think it will be more of the same forever. We'll put them right on this score.
Writing helps to structure my thoughts, to remove the constant swirl, the zig zag neurone to neurone connection of the formulating of hypotheses, the drawing of conclusions. I used to be able to get some respite. My mind was once capable of switching off and I’d escape into day dreaming mode, some flight of fancy, some castle building.
For a long time now, there has been no respite. The frenetic activity of my mind mirrors the state of my country.
I am drawn to conversations with strangers on Facebook who come up with non sequitur after non sequitur:
She wrote nasty things. You should be a magistrate because you know so much. You just want your party to be in power. What are you saying? Two years later and we have 4 men in prison. We don’t know who killed Karen Grech.
On and on it goes. The vile bile. The vomit. It’s impossible to get through to these people. But I have a compulsion to try.
My country is in a bad way. It’s diseased. Its institutions are suffering from a terminal illness and they are on their last legs.
Many people lie to themselves and / or to others. Truth is ethereal, evasive. Instead you have truth twisted and spun completely out of all recognition. With many it’s a defense mechanism. They cannot quite believe the perfidy of their idols. They’re in denial. To accept that they have been betrayed by the politicians they idolized would be too painful.
The truth will set you free, it is said. Some, however, invent their own truths, which therefore are not true. Truth doesn’t belong to one person or another. Truth is true to itself and only itself. Many have lost the ability to recognise truth even when it hits them in the face.
The pity is that we don’t seem to understand the science of cause and effect. We don’t see how we’ve got to this point or the consequences for the future of the way we’ve handled the unfolding political earthquakes over the last few months, heck years. We’re short sighted. We don’t do foresight or hindsight or long term vision. Even our political leaders and the people heading our institutions are myopic.
Meanwhile Joseph Muscat zig zags around the globe on his diplomatic passport to Bethlehem, the Vatican, Dubai for 3 days, spending at least 20000 euro in first class flights, London. His behaviour is suspicious and he doesn’t care that it looks suspicious.
Tomorrow we start again with our protests. Our burgeoning civil society – an alliance of different groups you wouldn’t normally see side by side - is the hope. We have to show the new Prime Minister that we dictate the shots. Not him. He needs to understand that the profile of the electorate has changed dramatically. That the assassination of a journalist was a turning point. That the way our institutions did not cope with the fall out of her assassination was another turning point. That the days of red and blue are no more.
Yes, there are voices all over social media that would make you think we had Malta split only between red and blue, like in the old days. But these voices – ignorant and hateful – make the most noise. There will be thousands today with no party. The toxic duopoly is finally on its way out.
I have faith that we will have a Malta 2.0 which functions, which has the citizen at the centre of everything it does or is. The trauma and the tragedy of the last few years cannot be for nothing. Let these years count.