Update 2 | Operations controllers on strike over union recognition in Air Malta talks

The Association of Airline Operations Controllers accuses airline of being blackmailed by the General Workers’ Union • MHRA says potential damage to the tourism sector and Air Malta would be 'irresponsible and destructive' • Employers' association warns against setting 'a dangerous precedent'

The Association of Airline Operations Controllers represents some 12 employees
The Association of Airline Operations Controllers represents some 12 employees

The Association of Airline Operations Controllers, which is not currently recognised as an official union, has launched an industrial action against Air Malta over its lack of recognition by the airline following talks with the airline and the tourism minister.

In a statement, the Association of Airline Operations Controllers (AAOC) said that it had ordered industrial action since Air Malta was refusing to recognise the AAOC as an official union, despite it being officially set up in October 2015.

It said that this delay had led the AAOC to register a number of industrial disputes, without ever having taken any industrial action.

AAOC added that a report by the Director for Industrial Relations and Employment (DIER) from 27 June 2017, had clearly stated that the association should be recognised by the company since all workers were members of the AAOC and none were registered with the General Workers’ Union (GWU).

“In spite of this, Air Malta still did not recognise the AAOC, leaving it with no alternative but to act in accordance with the law and to once again register a dispute, and after allowing a reasonable amount of time for this to happen, to take industrial action which all the employees were adhering to.”

“It must also be said that the GWU is maintaining that the workers in question, namely the Operations Controllers, are also represented by it, and that the GWU is, in Air Malta’s own words, threatening industrial action itself,” the statement added.

The AAOC, through its legal counsel, said that it was therefore evident that Air Malta was refusing to honour the DIER’s decision because of an “unjust and illicit threat” by the GWU.

It insisted that the fact that the AAOC represents 13 workers was irrelevant since the union was registered according to all legal requirements. AAOC added that recognition was being demanded with immediate effect since the DIER had given clear instructions, according to the law and that Air Malta’s actions were undermining the DIER and the country’s laws.

AAOC rejected allegations by Air Malta, that the industrial action was “extreme, illegal and irresponsible”.

“It is unacceptable that these adjectives are used when the Union is a legitimate one, that is cautiously exercising right granted to it by law. It is in fact the company that is acting in an illegal and irresponsible manner,” the AAOC said.

Earlier, the national airline had described AAOC’s industrial action as being “potentially detrimental to the company and to tourism in general," and able to “bring the company's operations to an abrupt halt.”

“These extreme actions by the AAOC, at such a crucial time for the company – in the peak of the touristic season – is irresponsible and illegal, and the AAOC will be held responsible for its actions,” Air Malta said, adding that it would use all its resources to manage the effects of the industrial action and to safeguard the interests of its passengers.

It is the national airline’s view that since these employees are already represented by another union which covers the entire workforce, the issue of union recognition should be put to the Industrial Tribunal.

According to Air Malta, a three-way meeting was held yesterday afternoon between the AAOC, Air Malta and tourism minister Konrad Mizzi in order to iron out the issue of the union’s recognition.

The government had tabled an offer whereby all stakeholders would be informed of developments as they emerged while the Industrial Tribunal deliberated the union’s status. However, the AAOC called for an immediate industrial action, Air Malta said.

Later on Thursday, Air Malta announced that its flights were operating normally after the company outsourced the work usually carried out by the airline’s operations control centre from a service provider.
Air Malta added that its management held conciliation meetings with the union this morning, though these were inconclusive.

“Although until now these meetings have been inconclusive, Air Malta and the government will remain open to further discussions with the aim of finding a solution to this issue,” the national airline said.

MHRA reaction

In a statement, the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) lambasted any potential damage to the tourism sector and specifically to Air Malta as "irresponsible and destructive".

The MHRA said that while it recognised the right for employees for representation, issues needed to be addressed through dialogue and never by putting the employer at ransom, especially when - in this case - the victim of such action would be the wider economy itself. 

The association noted that the economic success that had been achieved to date through the contribution of the tourism sector had reached record levels, not by coincidence, but through the concerted efforts of all stakeholders over the past years.

With regards to the action by AAOC, MHRA insisted that nothing justified grounding Air Malta aircraft, especially when there were clear rules and directives governing such matters.

"We can never achieve the desired economic growth while saving our national airline if a small group of individuals within the organisation deem it right to disrupt and drastically harm our economy," it said.

Tony Zahra, MHRA President, said that the days of such militant and short-sighted actions - which cause great harm and disruption to the economy - were long gone and should be resisted by the authorities at all costs.

"No one is indispensable and should, in the face of challenges, always opt for a solution through dialogue and respect,” he said.

MHRA said it would be supporting the relevant authorities, including the government and Air Malta, in safeguarding the national interest.

It also called on AAOC to "stop shooting themselves in the foot".

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