Tourism minister admits Air Malta workforce must be ‘right size, right shape’

Edward Zammit Lewis insists Alitalia deal will not see Air Malta become a feeder airline, refuses to give 'sweeping statements' about the future of airline's staff

Tourism minister Edward Zammit Lewis was cautious on the future of Air Malta’s staff, following the national airline’s partial sale to Alitalia.

“Air Malta’s workorce must be one of right size. Right shape, which means that it should be structures in a manner that makes sense for its operations,” he said. “Decisions concerning workers will only be taken following the completion of a business plan, that will include details pertaining to the routes services and the number of aeroplanes in operation.”

He was speaking in Parliament after tabling a copy of the memorandum of understanding that was signed in April with Alitalia, that will see the Italian national airline that a 49% stake of Air Malta. 

The MOU refers to a “substantial cost saving strategy”, based on “lean and efficient hub operations”, “resdesigning and automating processes and working arramgements in line with best practices” and “rationalizing resources to ensure viability and profitability of the airline”.

The clause was flagged by Oppostion MP Robert Arrigo, who argued that the rationalization of the workforce is equivalent to the downsizing of the national airline.

Zammit Lewis that he will refuse to give “sweeping statements” about the workers’ future, insisting that union will get to start discussing new collective agreements for Air Malta employees in a committee chaired by [President Emeritus] George Abela.

“As a general rule, the government is committed to expanding the airline and maintaining the jobs of Air Malta employees,” he said.

He categorically denied that the deal will see Air Malta become a feeder airline, insisting that the agreement will be scrapped if it doesn’t allow the national airline to expand.

Indeed, he said that the final version of any deal will see Air Malta expand its fleet, reduce its ticket prices, and start serving other routes besides point-to-point flights to and from Malta.

The deal will also see Air Malta staff given opportunities to expand their careers with Etihad, and Air Malta passengers benefit from Ethihad Airways’ frequent flier programme.

He said that Air Malta’s ascension to “the family of Etihad Airways” will see Air Malta become more competitive in terms of procurement, distribution and logistics, which will in turn allow the national airline to reduce ticket prices.

“How can Air Malta currently compete in ticket prices, when our competitors negotiate leases for hundreds of aeroplanes at one go, while we only negotiate for ten? Competitors will obviously get to acquire them at better prices, which will ultimately allow them to offer cheaper tickets.”

PN raises questions about Montezemolo comments

Opposition MP Claudio Grech warned about recent comments by Alitalia’s president Luca Cordero di Montezemolo that the deal was a sub-zero risk for the Italian airline and that it would “open up interesting connections with Sicily”.

Opposition MP Francis Zammit Dimech noted a clause within the MOU that forbids either party from “making any further public announcement on this MOU, the matters referred to herein or the proposed transaction, unless the relevant statements have been previously agreed between the parties”.

“Does this meant that Montezemolo broke the terms of the MOU or does it mean that the Maltese government gave him the go-ahead to make those comments?” he asked.

Zammit Lewis retorted that government didn’t give Montezemolo the green light to pass those comments and that any new Sicily connections will not be substituted for current point-to-one destinations.

The minister refused to answer questions by PN MP Robert Arrigo over whether the final deal will see Air Malta lose all of its UK flights except London Heathrow, and see the frequency of its routes to Franfkurt slashed.

“These topics are subject to ongoing negotiations, which means that is premature to comment on them,” he said. “However, I can assure that Air Malta’s flight network and workforce are paramount to us.”

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