Air Malta retirement scheme for excess pilots and cabin crew will cost over €6 million

Tourism minister warns that excess cabin crew must either seek work with another airline or take advantage of a voluntary retirement scheme

Wings will surely be clipped as Air Malta has signalled that the cabin crew complement at the national airline will have to come down, and the workforce emulate the working conditions of other major airlines.

Wings will surely be clipped as Air Malta has signalled that the cabin crew complement at the national airline will have to come down, and the workforce emulate the working conditions of other major airlines.

Union representatives were told on Friday the government would only guarantee jobs and take-home pay for cabin crew if they increase productivity targets imposed by the management, and accept a voluntary early retirement scheme.

Air Malta cabin crew members began following work-to-rule directives after three meetings in one day between the union and tourism minister Edward Zammit Lewis, Air Malta chairperson Maria Micallef and George Abela, President emeritus, appointed as a negotiator for the airline’s talks with Alitalia.

But MaltaToday is informed that the two sides are close to reaching an agreement which they are expected to sign tomorrow. 

Air Malta is in discussions with the Italian airline to sell off a 49% stake, which also means a downsizing of the national airline’s staff complement.

The cabin crew union’s industrial action took place just a day after an impasse with Air Malta pilots on their collective agreement was resolved, when union ALPA agreed to fly more than the average 55 hours a month pilots were currently notching up.

But Air Malta responded to the cabin crew union action by launching a new recruitment drive for part-time cabin crew members, and a voluntary early retirement scheme now tagged at some €6 million.

Union boss Noel Mercieca yesterday told MaltaToday he wanted a written guarantee that salaries and jobs would be guaranteed in return for higher flexibility and productivity from cabin crew workers.

“There is too much uncertainty among us. We don’t even know how many planes will be flying in the next months, which is why we want written commitments. We don’t mind flexibility as long as we have a guarantee of job security.”

At present Air Malta is carrying an extra member of cabin crew on each flight, even though the workload, such as the distribution of free meals, has been made lighter with free meals replaced by an ungenerous baguette.

While Edward Zammit Lewis made it clear that nobody would lose their job or pay package, he indicated to the union that excess staff will have to either work with another airline, or take advantage of the voluntary retirement scheme – tagged at a cost of €6 million.

The government also wants cabin crew members to give up certain privileges, such as free transport, and accept to take directions from the management.

A government spokesperson insisted it was ready to guarantee jobs and take-home pay for cabin crew, if this is backed by an increase in productivity. “The same was offered to ALPA,” the spokesperson said, referring to a breakthrough with the pilots union that will see pilots fly longer than 55 hours a month to match their salary demands.

Pilots will accept new working conditions which are according to EASA (European Air Safety Agency) criteria, and a voluntary retirement scheme for any excess pilots.

“An important part of what the government is asking for is that management takes over decisions related to operations and work practices during flights, in order to avoid situations such as those which have happened recently,” the spokesperson said, listing examples of air stewards refusing to cooperate with airline demands.

These included a refusal to warm up the airline’s complementary baguette served to passengers, a refusal to distribute promo cards, a refusal to serve a cake to a passenger who had flown with Air Malta for 35 years, and a refusal to serve a hot meal on a Malta Football Association flight for the national team and for the Lazio football team on a charter flight.

The spokesperson said the airline would not hesitate to retract the early retirement scheme if union directives persist. 

Under the work-to-rule directives, the UCC has told cabin crew not to work on their off days.

This means that if a cabin crew member calls in sick, the management will not be able to find a replacement and therefore flights might need to be cancelled.

The management can then ask a part-timer to replace the sick cabin crew member, but according to their collective agreement the other full-time cabin crew members can refuse to work with the part-timers.

“This can lead to the flight not having enough cabin crew members and therefore having to be cancelled,” a government spokesperson said. “UCC are sending text messages to members encouraging them to refuse to work on their off days.”

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