Updated | Air Malta cannot stop pilots’ industrial action, court rules

Court turns down request by Air Malta for a prohibitory injunction against pilots’ union, despite the company’s claims that any strike action could lead to airline’s bankruptcy • Air Malta open to further discussion with ALPA • Tourism ministry urges pilots to respect their pledge to not have industriual action lead to cancellation of Air Malta flights

A request by Air Malta for the court to issue a prohibitory injunction against the Airline Pilots Association (ALPA) was turned down after the Constitutional Court found that the airline had not proven its arguments sufficiently according to the law.

Air Malta had asked for an injunction to stop the union taking strike action in its dispute with the airline, claiming that any industrial action now – while Air Malta was in talks with Alitalia for the sale of 49% of its shares – would be disastrous.

The company had claimed that strike action by the pilots could lead to the collapse of the airline and move the company into bankruptcy.

Judge Silvio Meli delivered his ruling one week after the airline and the pilots’ union presented their arguments in court, after a last-ditch attempt to find a solution to the impasse proved futile.

Air Malta said in a statement that it was and would continue to be open to discussions with ALPA, while continuing to work to safeguard its interests and those of its employees, stakeholders and the country in general.

The company said it respected the court’s decision and noted the judge’s admonishment that the two parties should not rely solely on prudence and fortitude, but should also act with intemperance and justice.

ALPA’s legal representative Edward Gatt had reassured Air Malta before the judge that no Air Malta flights would be cancelled through any industrial action taken by the union in its industrial dispute with the airline.

Gatt had recorded a formal statement, categorically stating that Air Malta would not lose any flights through any action taken by ALPA in its industrial dispute with the airline.

Louis de Gabriele, legal representative for Air Malta, in a recorded statement, had reconfirmed that the airline at present had €66 million in negative equity.

In his submission, de Gabriele had insisted that strike action by the pilots’ union would be disproportionate to the effect it could cause, since it could very well lead to the airline’s collapse.

With the airline already in dire financial straits, strike action by the pilots at this critical time, when Air Malta was negotiating with Alitalia for the sale of 49% of shares in the company, would be fatal, he told the court.

He suggested that the pilots had in fact chosen to threaten the airline with industrial action at this moment because they recognised Air Malta was in a weak position, with the Summer season at its peak and the negotitations with Alitalia still unconcluded.

De Gabriele said Air Malta had not in any way questioned the pilots’ right to strike, but was only questioning the timing of it.

But Gatt, for ALPA, had said the workers’ right to strike when faced with uncertainty over their employment, could not be simply out on hold while the airline sorted its affairs.

He had refuted claims that industrial action at this moment would have a disproportionate effect, and said the union was making it clear that it any strike action would not lead to cancellation of flights for Air Malta.

In a statement issued following the court’s decision, the tourism ministry appealed to Air Malta pilots to be responsible in their actions while reiterating the government’s commitment to safeguard workers, the national airline and the tourism industry in general.

It noted the court’s emphasis on the importance of the statement recorded in court by the ALPA representative, in which the pilots pledged their industrial action would not lead to the cancellation of any Air Malta flights.

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