Pilots won’t discuss cuts without say on Air Malta restructuring

Pilots union claims it wants a say on airline’s restructuring to consider pay cuts due to pandemic shutdown

Air Malta pilots have refused to consider a radical and drastic cut of their monthly salaries to just €1,200, with union spokesperson Dominic Azzopardi complaining about management not having taken any cut in their salaries.

“We are already suffering a 30% cut,” Azzopardi said, referring to the fact that pilots are not being paid their performance-based portion of their salaries, which depend on the amount of hours they fly.

Air Malta has been attempting to convince workers to take suitable pay cuts due to the lack of revenue the national airline will suffer in the coronavirus pandemic, that has shut down the tourism industry. 

But the ALPA spokesperson said the union will only sit down to consider a salary cut if they see management taking similar wage cuts, and if they are invited to discuss further restructuring of the airline. 

“Reducing our salaries will not solve anything for the airline. Management should be cutting down on third-party commitments... we should discuss airline leases. We want the satisfaction that we can be partners at the same table to discuss the airline’s restructuring if we are to endure wage cuts,” Azzopardi said. 

With airplanes grounded and just a handful of flights carrying crucial cargo and medical equipment, Air Malta sources told MaltaToday that ALPA was refusing to entertain Air Malta’s proposal, even informing management that its members cannot gather to discuss and vote on the proposal due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

“This proposal does not seem fair. It’s too vague,” Azzopardi told MaltaToday. “Will management take a 30% cut on its salary just as we have done?”

Pilots’ average gross salaries are €140,000 for captains, and €80,000 for first officers. Even without flying, pilots are left with substantial salaries that do not reflect the state of the shuttered airline right now. 

“Even unions representing other Air Malta employees are stunned by ALPA’s intransigence,” an airline official told MaltaToday. “Now that the company is in such a dire situation, ALPA is giving it the cold shoulder. This is highly irresponsible and could lead to the complete winding down of Air Malta.” 

Cabin crew disagreement 

A bid by Air Malta to offer cabin crew members reduced salaries of €1,200 has exposed fault-lines in the Union of Cab- in Crew, as workers scramble to avoid redundancies and stay on the airline’s books. 

A substantial number of cabin crew employees have instructed a lawyer to inform the airline that they are in partial agreement with official proposals put forward by Air Malta, where each employee whose principal employment is with the airline and is covered by a collective agreement will receive the reduced salary. 

The airline will not renew the contracts of 140 full-time cabin crew employees on definite contracts, unless the UCC accepts the lower salary. Definite contract employees were previously paid a €1,500 basic salary, topped up according to the number of hours they worked. 

The proposal by Air Malta is to pay workers a monthly income equivalent to the average during the preceding 12 months, capped at €1,200 gross in a bid to reduce the risk of job terminations. 

A lawyer representing a substantial number of Air Malta cabin crew employees claimed the UCC has allegedly “not been acting in favour of the interests of the majority of cabin crew members”. 

In her letter to the Department for Industrial and Employment Relations (DIER), lawyer Mariah Mula said she was initiating petition proceedings against the UCC’s position, saying it did not reflect the interests of the majority of Air Malta’s cabin crew employees.

“It appears the UCC has allegedly proposed its conclusions to both the airline company and the DIER without the necessary consultation and approval required of all its members. Most of the cabin crew employees that have so far approached me are greatly disturbed by the fact that the UCC is proposing an equal percentage pay-cut from their basic salary for a definite period,” Mula said. 

The extraordinary number of cancellations and travel bans due to the COVID-19 out- break have robbed Air Malta, already believed to have registered some €30 million in losses during 2019, of vital revenues that will compound the huge financial decline. 

Air Malta currently employs 338 employees covered by the collective agreement concluded with the UCC. 

The airline is proposing that workers utilise their paid vacation carried forward from 2019, and for all 2020; then work reduced hours, with corresponding reduction in salary that will range from 40% to 80%; if the situation deteriorates, workers will go on forced unpaid leave, being called in to work on an ‘as needed’ basis, being remunerated only for hours effectively worked. 

Apart from this, the airline is proposing a maximum €1,200 monthly salary in consideration for the UCC to accept the revocation of an annual salary adjustment where actual salaries are grossed up at the end of the year to equate to the employee’s take home pay. 

“This adjustment mechanism would clearly cancel out any efforts by the company to cut costs in this difficult time and its continued application would unavoidably lead to forcing the company into declaring redundancies,” workers were told by Air Malta.

In a comment to MaltaToday, the UCC insisted that the measures proposed to them “were never discussed with a a view to reach a proportionate and equitable solution to avoid unnecessary hardships for employees, but was offered as a take-it-or-leave-it.”

The UCC said Air Malta had already prematurely informed a number of employees on definite term contracts that it would not be renewing their contract at end-April, claiming this had pitted cabin crew members against each other, accusing Air Malta human resources of adopting underhanded tactics to sow confusion between employees.

The UCC said its employees have already suffered a significant reduction in their incomes, which are made up of a basic salary and flying hours allowances, which at the moment have been reduced to almost zero. “While management expects the UCC to agree to these measures, top management has only given leave days and other perks as part of the substantial pay cut,” the UCC said.

The UCC said it had not refused the Air Malta offer, but only wanted clarifications and guarantees from the airline. “The so-called petitionsent to the DIER by an independent lawyer, only represents a tiny fraction of cabin crew employees who want to promote their own personal interests first, before those of the section as a whole. The UCC remains the recognised trade union at law, representing all the cabin crew section within Air Malta.”

“In light of the government's state aid and financial assistance schemes, the UCC expects the company's measures to match those rolled-out by government to protect jobs and employees in other industries. The UCC is committed to discussing with Air Malta in 'good faith' with the intention of reaching a fair agreement which protects the company and the livelihood of its employees.”

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