Air Malta pilots ‘surprised’ by lay-offs after proposing 50% salary cut

ALPA demanded €73 million early retirement pay-out, forcing breakdown of negotiations

Captain Dominic Azzopardi led negotiations on behalf of ALPA with Air Malta
Captain Dominic Azzopardi led negotiations on behalf of ALPA with Air Malta

The union of airline pilots (ALPA) has claimed a decision by Air Malta to lay off 69 pilots has come as a “complete surprise”, after pilots reportedly insisted on a €73 million early retirement pay-out.

Dominic Azzopardi, who led ALPA’s negotiations with Air Malta, said in a statement that the association had approached the discussions with “the best interests of its members and with the intention of ensuring the prosperity and the long-term viability of Malta’s national airline.”

He said ALPA had presented concrete and feasible proposals, as well as significant cost-cutting measures, that could strengthen the airline.

He also said ALPA was refuting “allegations” on the union’s demands as unfounded and a cover-up.

“The laying-off of a significant portion of Air Malta’s pilot fleet will be detrimental to the airline’s future. The company’s decision to proceed with the contemplated redundancies underlines the use of the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to do away with the current conditions of employment for its workers, whilst, on the other hand, ensuring that excessively generous packages for those in the higher tiers of the company’s management are retained,” Azzopardi said.

ALPA had consented to a 50% pay cut throughout the duration of the pandemic, after first refusing a radical €1,200 monthly take-home pay.

Airline management on Friday announced the breakdown of talks with ALPA, the airline pilots association, and that it was proceeding to make 69 pilots redundant, one of the most drastic developments ever in the history of Air Malta. 

The airline wanted pilots to accept a €1,200 monthly salary under the unprecedented conditions brought about by the COVID-19 shutdown, which closed all travel routes and grounded aircraft except for cargo and repatriation flights. 

But after refusing to take any pay cuts, pilots were given 30 days to reach an agreement with Air Malta to fend off any redundancies. 

Their key demand was that the government honours a pledge for a €750,000 early retirement scheme, contained in a side-letter signed by former tourism minister Konrad Mizzi. 

Now the airline is braced for more confrontation from ALPA. 

The airline originally floated a proposal to have current Air Malta pilots employed by a private third-party company, that would then subcontract their services to Air Malta according to flying hours required. 

The pilots were also offered a 10-year guarantee of employment. In return the pilots would have to relinquish their claims for an early retirement package of €750,000 for those reaching 55 years of age or 25 years of service.  

The negotiations were led by Air Malta chairman Charles Mangion and CEO Clifford Chetcuti together with other Air Malta officials. 

Economy minister Silvio Schembri told MaltaToday the airline had presented pilots with a generous offer.  “We had made a generous offer which would have guaranteed employment for all. Unfortunately common sense did not prevail. We have reached an agreement and understanding with other Air Malta employees such as the cabin crew and I have to thank them for their understanding. We had to take decisions, with our current pilot complement  

“Air Malta will be able to comfortably operate five planes and ensure that we serve our core routes until the end of the year. We must focus on revitalising our tourist industry, this is an exceptional moment and we must rise to the occasion. It will be hard but we will succeed.” 

Yesterday the airline launched a new summer scheduled, opening its reservation system for sales after three months of reduced flights due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The available “safe corridor” flights will go to Catania, Frankfurt, Munich, Dusseldorf, Berlin, Prague and Luxemburg as of 1 July, with flights to Zurich and Geneva coming online a week later. 

After nearly three months of only operating ‘lifeline’ flights to London, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Rome, Air Malta said it was looking forward to welcoming scheduled passengers again. The ‘lifeline’ schedule will also remain in operation. 

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