Striking pilots would ‘bankrupt’ Air Malta, Prime Minister insists

Joseph Muscat insists that pilots have a constitutional right to industrial action but going out on a strike for a day or two would ‘bankrupt’ the national airline

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has defended the right of the pilots’ association to launch industrial actions but claimed that going out on strike would cause the national airline to go bankrupt.

Interviewed on Radju Malta’s Ghandi Xi Nghid, Muscat told host Andrew Azzopardi that the government moved a prohibitory injunction in court to stop ALPA from taking “disproportionate” industrial action as the pilots' association is at loggerheads over the terms of a new collective agreement. The pilots’ collective agreement expired in December 2015.

It was revealed in the ongoing court case between ALPA and Air Malta that the national airline was €66 million in the red. Air Malta is in the midst of negotiations to sell off a minority stake of 49% to Alitalia, although this might fall through if the two sides fail to reach an agreement in the coming months.

“I will not criticise ALPA for defending the interests of its pilots … but I’m here to protect the interests the airline and citizens. Disproportionate industrial action – such as a strike – will not lead them to a pay rise but to a bankrupt Air Malta. The airline cannot afford having striking pilots for a day or two. It will only lead Air Malta to go bankrupt, costing them their jobs, the jobs of the other employees and those employed in the tourism industry,” Muscat said.

The Prime Minister argued that he understood the unions’ concerns over the workers’ future: “It is understandable because any change brings with it a level of uncertainty. The same had happened during the talks with Shanghai Electric Power and Enemalta. At the end of the day, we proved that it was the right decision to take: we saved the company which is now a profit-making entity.”

Muscat expressed hope that a way forward is found with ALPA. “The pilots are aware of the situation and know what the airline can and cannot do at this stage. I just hope that, like we moved forward with other unions, we can find a way with the pilots.”

Insisting that the government will not be “begging” Alitalia to buy a minority stake in Air Malta, Muscat insisted that Air Malta will be defending its own turf and, failure to reach a satisfactory agreement, it will pull out of the negotiations.

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