Pilots ordered not to work on off-days as industrial action kicks in

Pilots’ union president calls for basic details on Alitalia deal, rubbishes tourism minister’s pledge that ‘no Air Malta employee will be left unemployed’ 

Air Malta’s pilots have been ordered not to work on their days off, in an attempt by their union to pressure the national airline into releasing crucial details about the proposed deal that will see Alitalia take a 49% shareholding. 

Airline Pilots’ Association President (ALPA) president Dominic Azzopardi told MaltaToday that pilots will no longer report to work when called for duty on their days off, and that an end date for the industrial action has not yet been set.

Air Malta has postponed negotiations on new collective agreements until 31 August, when it expects to have concluded discussions on its business plan with the Italian flag carrier.

However, Dominic Azzopardi said that workers have a right to know certain details within the business plan, such as whether the fleet will be downsized and whether any of them will be laid off.

“If we know from now that say, 20 pilots will be laid off then some can start searching in advance new jobs with other airlines,” he said. “We’re not asking for the entire business plan, just for a general picture of what it will look like. Right now, we’re all in the dark. They’re saying that everything will be ready by the end of August now, but other set dates for discussions have not been adhered to.”

He dismissed tourism minister Edward Zammit Lewis’ promise not to leave any Air Malta employees unemployed, arguing that pilots are seeking reassurances of their future in their specific careers.

“If Malta had a large military service, then perhaps some pilots could find jobs in the army’s air force, but that is not the case. Does he expect pilots to work as secretaries in government departments? It’s insulting.”


‘Air Malta’s CEO: from one cushy job to another’

Azzopardi reacted cynically to Air Malta’s new acting CEO Joe Galea’s rallying cry in an email, in which he told the airline’s employees that “we’re all in this together” and that “you have stuck together through thick and thin because of your belief that [Air Malta] can overcome the hurdles ahead”.

“[Galea] is a nice guy but he’s landed a cushy job at Air Malta, after working at a cushy job at the Malta Tourism Authority,” Azzopardi said, referring to Galea’s stint as the MTA’s director of international marketing in Germany.

“I think he was being sarcastic when he wrote that e-mail. He’s only just arrived here; who is he to preach to us about the need for unity?” he asked. “We may all be on the same boat but like the Titanic, he’ll have another ship to jump on in case it all goes belly up, while we’ll be left to sink.”

MHRA calls for pilots’ restraint

Reacting to ALPA’s statement, the Malta Hotels and Restuarants Association (MHRA) reiterated that four weeks is too long a period for unions to wait for a meeting with the airline’s management.

“The tourism industry is probably the main driver of Malta’s economic success and Air Malta has a major role to play in this industry. It is therefore incumbent on the two sides to this issue to meet and come up with solutions that are fair and equitable given the country’s need for a successful national airline and the pilots’ request to review their salaries,” MHRA president Tony Zahra said. “Should a solution not be found, then the matter should be put to arbitration.”

Zahra said the airline’s management should seek to meet the pilots union as early as possible as it is not correct to wait for 4 weeks for a meeting between the two sides.

However, MHRA also called for pilots “to use only the force of argument in furthering their perceived claims and not the argument of force which can only worsen situations.”

Zahra added that Malta's economic success has come about through the efforts of all stakeholders. 

“This success cannot be taken for granted and only through the continued constructive participation of every stakeholder we can ensure that the country keeps moving forward for the benefit of all citizens.  Actions which threaten the tourism industry and therefore the livelihood of thousands remain unacceptable for MHRA.”

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