The Malta Police Union (MPU) is currently at loggerheads with the police force’s administration over a lack of consultation, with over seven pending trade disputes, while faltering numbers in police ranks are making the situation worse, the police union has told The Shift.
“The verdict on Angelo Gafa’ is that he has established a five-year plan without consulting with his officers, which is fundamental to allow us to work together well, be it union or administration. It is the thing that is missing the most,” Malta Police Union (MPU) president Alex Schembri said.
“In public, Gafa’ keeps saying that the union is a strategic partner, but he keeps handing us plans that have already been made. This is not how consultation works,” he added, referring to the union’s most recent trade dispute over the redistribution of district officers.
From data obtained by the MPU through a Freedom of Information request, seen by The Shift, the union argued that a high turnover rate among officers has led to understaffed districts all over Malta, a problem exacerbated by recent changes in police district boundaries.
The union is reporting that around 250 officers more need to be recruited to address this problem.
Schembri said the union does not expect police commissioner Angelo Gafa’ to follow everything the MPU says, however it is ultimately the representative of the working element of the force. Serving police officers have pointed out a number of issues, including a new system of leave that does not cater for emergency leave requests, and changes in shift times. MPU never consented to these decisions.
Schembri told The Shift there is a sentiment shared by all corps members that there is “a lot of disconnection between us – they are trying to make too many changes at once, it’s not working”.
Officers ‘just don’t know where they stand’
The MPU’s seven pending trade disputes with the police administration include disagreements over assistance to other law enforcement entities, facial hair, a disputed call for assistant commissioners, the availability of COVID booster shots for the corps, deteriorating working conditions and allowances, while the latest bone of contention revolves around the shuffling around of police districts.
In the prior changes unilaterally laid down by Gafa’s administration on 1 January, police districts were not harmonised with local council boundaries, causing confusion over which district officers were meant to respond to which locality, with officers “not knowing where they stand”.
“Now, the boundaries which outlined police districts are in line with those of local councils, which we 100% agree with, since after 1 January, the situation was not good. In Marsa, for example, there were five police districts to deal with,” Schembri explained.
“The districts have now been changed again, and while the Marsa situation was addressed, we have just shifted the problem to another police district. Safi and Kirkop, previously under Żurrieq’s police district, are now part of Birżebbuġa and Żejtun,” he continued.
Schembri went on to explain what this means in real terms. He used the example of Safi residents, just a street or two away from Żurrieq, who now have to go Żejtun for assistance, which is much further away.
“We were never consulted on this – we were just told this would be done, and that’s it,” he added. The Żejtun police district has also now lost around 30% of its available staff, while simultaneously adding three new communities to its workload – Safi, Kirkop and Mqabba.
Schembri also referred to extra duty payouts being reduced since 2018, due to police top brass insistence on not assigning officers to extra duties given the diminished number of available officers. The claim could not be independently verified due to incomplete data submitted in parliament in reply to three parliamentary questions, in which there was no information submitted for the last three months of 2020 and 2021.