As cabin crew mulls strike, minister warns of shutting down Air Malta

Tourism minister Konrad Mizzi told MaltaToday that the government might have no other option but to close Air Malta down completely and re-open with new staff unless unions back the strategy being put in place

Tourism minister Konrad Mizzi has warned unions that their demands are unsustainable
Tourism minister Konrad Mizzi has warned unions that their demands are unsustainable

As a showdown with airline unions looms, a ‘make or break’ meeting on 20 September will threaten workers’ representatives with an unpleasant prospect:

Breaking up Air Malta, the national airline that has served the Maltese islands since the 1970s, then create a new one over the following six months, and recruit new staff on a new collective agreement and reduced complement.

Under tourism minister Konrad Mizzi, demands from the Union of Cabin Crew and the Airline Pilots Association (ALPA) are now entering a tight deadlock.

The UCC wants a 10% increase on salaries, while the pilots are demanding 30%. Mizzi has indicated he will not accept “unsustainable” demands for salary increases.

“Unless all employees and their representatives understand the need to cooperate with the company as it strives to make the airline profitable, the government will have no option but to close down Air Malta completely and re-open with new staff,” Mizzi told MaltaToday.

Declaring insolvency for Air Malta would release the government from restrictive conditions imposed by the European Commission when it green-lit a €260 million state funding tranche back in 2012.

It would also mean a new national airline would be created from the ground up with a smaller staff complement.

Today, cabin crew reps met to discuss new industrial action in a bid to force the beleaguered airline to accept their demands on a new collective agreement.

Sources said the union would be claiming it has issues on rostering, but cabin crew demands are related to pay increases and the dismissal of some part-time staff. Eight part-time cabin crew members were recently let go by Air Malta, with the UCC now insisting they be reinstated.

Air Malta has apparently not dismissed the possibility out of hand, only telling the union that it will take the matter under advisement, while it carries out a feasibility exercise on staffing.

That decision does not seem to have gone down well with the union, which called a meeting in a prelude for industrial action that will bring more pressure to bear on the company.

When contacted, minister Konrad Mizzi would not comment on the matter directly but said that any industrial action now could be very harmful.

“If the employees and the unions do not understand that they need to work with the company and the government while we implement changes to make the airline profitable, the government might have no other option but to close the company down completely and re-open with new staff,” he said.

“Let me be clear, as things stand now, it is possible – and highly likely – that our strategy will be successful and that Air Malta can survive and be profitable, but not if not all parties are on board with the plan.”

In July, Mizzi offered pilots a 5% increase in salaries against longer flying hours, an offer that was not welcomed by pilots union ALPA.

Talk of industrial action had already been mooted over outstanding pay rises. Apart from 26 days of annual leave, pilots get a statutory ‘day off’ of 38 hours’ rest after flying: that means that on average, pilots fly some 56 hours a month, far less than their European counterparts. But the airline management wants pilots to fly at least 75 hours a month.

As already revealed in the past, ALPA’s demands in June 2016 included a 30% increase to raise basic salaries to €48,000 and then up to €92,000 before additional payments, apart from backdated increments since the expiry of the collective agreement in 2016.

Mizzi has been adamant that any salary increments will only be given on condition that pilots fly more throughout the year.

But several pilots who spoke to MaltaToday on condition of anonymity said flying the European average should also be accompanied by salaries that match those of other legacy airlines.

Mizzi has already warned that without opening new routes – which requires Air Malta pilots to simply fly for more hours throughout the year – the company will become insolvent “in no time”.

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