Air Malta worker relocation deadline extended since exodus would hamper day-to-day operations

Deadline for Air Malta staff relocation deemed ‘too optimistic’

File photo
File photo

The deadline for Air Malta’s employee transfer scheme will be extended from mid-August to October, MaltaToday has learnt.

On 14 January, government announced it would create a voluntary employee transfer scheme in a bid to cut Air Malta’s workforce by half and save €15 million per year in wages as part of a restructuring exercise.

The scheme would see Air Malta workers being employed by the government in grades commensurate with their current income.

But a 12 August deadline to complete the transfer is being pushed forward because airline bosses fear the exodus would hamper day-to-day operations.

The company received 571 applications from the 824 eligible employees when the scheme closed on 11 February.

This was more than the government was expecting.

Air Malta Executive Chairman David Curmi has told MaltaToday that a final deadline has yet to be decided and the company is in discussions with the unions. 

Sources who spoke to this newspaper said Air Malta met with union representatives last Friday.

“The company, together with its shareholders, has decided to accept all the transfer requests,” Curmi said. He conceded that the original deadline set by the government may have been too optimistic.

“The deadline may have been optimistic, but yes, after meeting the unions in the coming weeks, we will be coming out with a final deadline,” Curmi said. 

Asked for the reason behind the deadline postponement, he said the issue is not having enough workers to keep operations running smoothly. 

“There are people who are crucial for the airline’s operations, and so we need to make sure they are properly replaced,” he said.

Curmi said the transfer scheme is a “complicated process”, but insisted that the restructuring exercise will not be affected. 

The Air Malta chairman also insisted there is “no agenda” behind the delay, “unlike what is being suggested by certain sections of the media”. 

Questions sent to Finance Minister Clyde Caruana have remained unanswered.

Employees at the airline who spoke to MaltaToday on condition of anonymity said that a lack of ground handling staff has prompted the airline to offer office workers the opportunity to work extra hours as ground handlers.

Office workers have been offered an attractive overtime rate at €22 per hour and those who have expressed an interest will undergo a course on ground handling operations on Tuesday.

The travel industry has seen an upsurge in demand over the past few months since COVID-19 restrictions were lifted. This includes Air Malta, which is one of the principal carriers operating to and from Malta International Airport.

However, Air Malta is undergoing a restructuring process after posting significant losses that pre-date the COVID-19 pandemic. Government has been seeking EU approval to provide the airline with state aid, a process that has not yet concluded.

During a press conference announcing the reforms last January, Finance Minister Clyde Caruana had said the restructuring plan also calls for new collective agreements to include more worker flexibility to allow the airline to fly between different airports that do not include Malta. These collective agreements had to be concluded by June.

In a press conference last June, Prime Minister Robert Abela had said employees impacted by the airline's restructuring will be given their new public service posts by mid-August.

However, employees are still in the dark about their future. Apart from the airline not wanting to disrupt its operations, reports have suggested that the comparatively good salaries employees enjoy at the airline present a stumbling block to their redeployment to the public service.