Union defies Air Malta chairwoman on €1 million cost-cutting plan

Tourism minister agreed to shelve plan to have part-timers transferred to another firm to be outsourced back to Air Malta at lower rates

Maria Micallef
Maria Micallef

A proposal by Air Malta chairman Maria Micallef to save the beleaguered airline €1 million in wage bills by transferring part-time workers to quality control specialists Inspectra, has been shelved following a backlash from the Union of Cabin Crew (UCC).

Cabin crew part-timers also protested with Tourism Minister Edward Zammit Lewis, who made his views known to Micallef, effectively shelving her plan.

Under a €230 million restructuring plan, the airline has to cut costs and achieve a financial turnaround. But with its finances nowhere near 2016’s target, the airline is now considering a ‘strategic partnership’ with Turkish Airlines.

Micallef’s proposal, announced at a staff meeting at Inspire offices in Marsaskala on 5 May, was to have Inspectra pay a lower €6.70 part-time hourly rate to the present €11 hourly rate, and a reduced allowance for Sundays and feast days, so as to outsource the workers back to the airline.

She said transferring the part-timers to Inspectra would save Air Malta €1 million, annually. But her unimpressed audience complained about the plans. A source said they heard one employee shout: “Let it [Air Malta] drown then!”

Although newly-engaged part-timer workers at Air Malta were transferred to Inspectra’s book, the plan was halted and the employees had their contracts renewed at Air Malta up until September.

But Micallef, who in the past said she would not tolerate any interference in her stewardship of the airline, denied any political interference.

“The plan was shelved because Air Malta wanted to treat all part-timers equally, but we did not managed to get all the unions on board,” she told MaltaToday.

“We reached an agreement with the General Workers Union, which understood the airline’s position, but the UCC did not accept. The management then decided it was unfair to treat all part-timers differently: passenger handling and loaders one way, and cabin crew the other.”

Micallef said that Air Malta accepted that a more holistic and sustainable way had to be found for the part-timers’ conundrum.

On the other hand, Edward Zammit Lewis was evasive with MaltaToday when asked over his role in shelving the plan after employees registered their protest with him and government officials.

He said he agreed with Air Malta’s decision to shelve the proposal and that part-timers should enjoy the same conditions of work.

He did not reply on whether the government was back-tracking on Air Malta’s restructuring by shelving the transfer of workers.

Since Labour’s election to power, the airline has seen the departure of two CEOs and three human resource managers.

Cost-cutting has seen Air Malta apply new charges for on-board services, the abolition of reduced child fares, and downgrading meals to a simple bottle of water and a baguette.

But the UCC has demanded a percentage on sales of items on board, as an incentive to pursue Air Malta’s direction at generating new revenues.

Air Malta’s management also wants to see a lower ratio of cabin crew to passengers, and to get pilots to work more hours akin to some industry standards: pilots and cabin crew are paid for transport to and from the airport, command high allowances on top of their salaries.

More in National