Pilots, nursing unions increase membership in tumultuous year

Pilots and nurses increased their union membership in a year dominated by Air Malta’s restructuring and collective agreement negotiations

Pilots and nurses increased their union membership in a year dominated by Air Malta’s restructuring and collective agreement negotiations.

According to the annual trade union report, covering the period between July 2022 and June 2023, the Airline Pilots Association Malta (ALPA) saw its membership increase by 67%.

This increase came at a time when Air Malta pilots were presented with a non-negotiable employment package as part of reforms at the national airline.

In June last year, the union issued directives advising its members to work-to-rule. This is a form of industrial action under which employees adhere strictly to their minimum required contractual obligations but do absolutely nothing more.

However, in April 2023, Air Malta hired more pilots and cabin crew after laying off a significant number of employees – excluding pilots – during a company restructuring in 2022.

Other aviation unions saw considerable increases in union membership. These include the Association of Airline Engineers (AAE) with a 28% increase, and the Malta Air Traffic Controllers Association (MATCA), with an 8% increase. The AAE represents engineers employed with Air Malta and Lufthansa Teknik. MATCA represents Maltese air traffic controllers.

Meanwhile, the Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses (MUMN) saw its membership increase to 5,0005 workers, up from 4,714 the year prior. The covering period was a busy time for the union, which saw its members go on strike and negotiate a new sectoral agreement.

In March 2023, 4,000 nurses and midwives went on strike across all local hospitals. Nurses at Mater Dei’s out-patients department were instructed not to answer any phone calls or take messages from clerks. At Gozo General Hospital, nurses were ordered to stop washing patients, except in the ITU/CCU.

Nurses embarked on the industrial action after a breakdown in talks over a new pay agreement. Eventually, the government’s final offer was rejected by the union.

Talks then resumed with the Health Ministry and most of the proposals put forward by the union were eventually accepted.

In August that year, nurses approved their pay agreement with 87% of MUMN members voting in favour. Under the agreement, nurses in all grades would receive a management allowance and extra hours worked would be compensated at overtime rates.

Another union with a membership surge last year was the Malta Union of Tourist Guides (MUTG), which increased its membership by 87%. The union has been around since 1980, representing licensed guides operating in Malta.

Unions representing the disciplined forces also saw increased membership between 2022 and 2023. Most notably, the Civil Protection Union (CPU) almost doubled its membership from 95 members to 183 in the reporting year. There was also a 24% increase in members of the Malta Police Union, which sealed a new sectoral agreement last October together with the Police Officers Union within the General Workers Union.

Other notable membership increases include the Malta Association for the Counselling Profession, at 11%, and the Union Periti u Inginiera tas-Settur Pubbliku with a 9% increase.

Educators’ two unions

Among educators, the Malta Union of Teachers remains a dominant union with 10,201 members, albeit a marginal year-on-year increase of 0.2%. Meanwhile, the rival Union of Professional Educators increased its membership by 2% to 3,124 members.

There is an unusual gender gap between the two unions. With the majority of teaching personnel in Malta being women, the larger part of MUT’s members are in fact women. Indeed, from its over 10,000 members, 75% are women. However, within the UPE, an overwhelming 96% of its members are men.

Overall, there was a general increase in union membership of 1,339 workers between 2022 and 2023. Only seven unions experienced a decrease in membership. These were the Malta Union of Bank Employees (-10%), the Malta Chamber of Pharmacists (-6%), the Union of Cabin Crew (-8%), Union Ħaddiema Bank Ċentrali (-11%), University of Malta Academic Staff Association (-3%), Union Technical and Clerical MEPA (-14%), and Union of MTA Employees (-6%).

The two largest unions were the General Workers’ Union and the Union Ħaddiema Maghqudin with 53,503 and 26,457 members respectively. Both are general trade unions representing workers in several sectors.