Even Mizzi gave Air Malta pilots guarantee of job with same take-home pay

Former tourism minister Konrad Mizzi sealed earlier promises for a government job with the same take-home pay pilots got from Air Malta to win industrial peace

Former tourism minister Konrad Mizzi
Former tourism minister Konrad Mizzi

Pilots were given a second guarantee from former tourism minister Konrad Mizzi, for a job at the same take-home pay they are earning now should Air Malta be downsized.

The document, signed on January 26, 2018, was a side letter to the collective agreement signed by Mizzi on behalf of the government and five representatives of the Airline Pilots’ Association Malta (ALPA). There are no Air Malta signatories, The Times revealed on Saturday.

MaltaToday had already revealed a side letter signed by Mizzi’s predecessor, Edward Zammit Lewis, that guarantees a take-home pay for pilots in the case of Air Malta ‘rightsizing’ in conjunction with an early retirement scheme.

The Mizzi side letter gave pilots a guarantee of a job in Malta, valid until the collective agreement – signed moments earlier – expires in 2023 and another is signed.

The side letter, which was never made public, states: “The parties agree that through this agreement the government is giving all pilots a guarantee of a job in Malta and a take-home pay, according to the conditions of the collective agreement signed earlier today. This guarantee will continue to stand until a new collective agreement between Air Malta and ALPA is signed and which must be concluded within a reasonable time from its expiry.”

The pilots’ union is now demanding that the government respects this agreement, which was also mentioned in a judicial protest ALPA filed earlier this week against the airline and the economy minister calling for meaningful consultation.

Already in 2016, Air Malta pilots were promised a signed guarantee by the Labour government that they would be kept on the state payroll with their same take-home pay, in the absence of a voluntary retirement scheme to ‘right-size’ the airline. 

The side-letter of 18 August 2016 was an agreement forced by the threat of a strike by Malta’s pilots, in which then tourism minister Edward Zammit Lewis had to placate pilots in a bid to increase their flying hours. 

The agreement states that the government “is giving all Air Malta pilots in Malta a guarantee of work, and will actively consider a voluntary early retirement scheme to ‘right-size’ [the airline] that would be acceptable to all parties, including ALPA… the government is guaranteeing pilots that they will continue receiving a ‘take home pay’ of their choice according to either years 2014, 2015 or 2016.” 

The 2016 side-letter was then confirmed again in another side-letter, also attached to the collective agreement that followed, in which Zammit Lewis confirmed the “guarantee of work”, with ALPA finally announcing it was renouncing on its industrial dispute. 

An airline source has insisted the wording of the agreement, which forms part of the collective agreement, is a guarantee that pilots terminated from Air Malta would still be granted a job on the state payroll at their same take-home pay. 

There was no comment from either the minister for the economy, Silvio Schembri, or ALPA spokesperson Dominic Azzopardi, on the contents of these side-letters. 

Air Malta took the unprecedented step to make 108 pilots from its staff of 134 redundant, after ALPA refused to take a radical pay cut of €1,200 a month due to the coronavirus grounding all flights. 

The collective agreement states that pilots’ licences will be renewed by the company prior to termination of employment, and that “in cases of redundancies… or a change in the state of affairs of the company, discussions should be held between the company and the union to reach an agreement on the amount of compensation that the affected employees should receive. This should be additional to any other benefits the employee might be entitled to.” 

According to the collective agreement, newly appointed junior first officers are paid €24,000 while first officers start at €34,000 and captains’ take-home pay starts at €66,000 and can reach €109,000. These exclude performance-based payments for hours spent flying, layover allowances, and denied days of duty: in the latter case, at the end of each month, crew members are paid any denied days free of duty at the rate of their basic salary multiplied by 0.004: which could be as much as €200 for each day denied. 

An agreement drawn up over industrial action on the inspection of data recorders, also yielded an annual allowance for captains of €9,000, and €7,000 for first officers. 

The collective agreement also includes an early retirement scheme for pilots who have reached the age of 55 and have given 25 years’ service – two-thirds of their basic salary, plus 0.1% of basic salary per month until reaching retirement age.

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