Updated | Flight operation controllers union blames Air Malta for delays, as it strikes over wages

Dispute between Air Malta and Airline Association for Operation Controllers has intensified this week, leading to further delayed flights • Airline says it has contingency plan in place for continuity of operations

Flights have been experiencing greater delays this week as the dispute continues unresolved
Flights have been experiencing greater delays this week as the dispute continues unresolved

Updated at 6.27pm with Air Malta statement

The airline operations controllers union has said that four flights were unnecessarily delayed today, when, following industrial action which it had taken, Air Malta effectively chose to lock them out of company, leaving them unable to do their jobs.

The Airline Association for Operation Controllers - a union representing around nine workers, which had split from the General Workers Union - has been striking over a 5% wage increase, which they say was given to all Air Malta employees, but not to them.

It stressed, in a press release this afternoon, that the action it had planned today would have affected only a single flight, but the national carrier's response to the strike was to deny the access to their work systems, resulting in more delays than planned.

The AAOC said that during the wage negotiations between the unions and Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi late last year, the group of flight controllers had not been represented by any union. As a result of this, in March they requested the same wage increase, claiming that all employees but them got the raise.

The union said that Air Malta had refused to grant the increase to its workers, and after months of attempted negotiations, the AAOC found they had no other option but to register an industrial dispute threatening industrial action.

The court has quashed Air Malta’s attempts to prevent AAOC from taking industrial action after the airline’s bid for an injunction, ruling that the union was within its right to do so, it highlighted.

Read also: Air Malta loses bid to stop operation controllers from taking industrial action

The striking started on 25 July, leading to flight KM184 being delayed. The airline did not approach AAOC following such action to discuss a means of recourse, the union said, leaving it no other option but to continue with further strikes.

The AAOC emphasised that it has been taking minimal action which should have only affected one flight. In response to this, Air Malta had diminished the controllers access to their work functions, including removing the nine workers’ access to their corporate email accounts. As a consequence of this, four flights ended up being heavily delayed, it said.

An AAOC spokesperson stressed that “the passengers have a right to know that this disaster was created by the company and not be the workers of the operations control,” and that “the AAOC has always remained open about tabling the issue for discussion.”

An airline management source told MaltaToday that the government has informed the union that once the dispute is resolved in court, it would be paying them in arreas, irrespective of who won.

“Today the airline decided to lock them out. The management has brought in a foreign company to do its scheduling,” the source said, "But it wasn't true there were delays."

"There was one flight that was delayed because of this, the rest are because of bad weather acorss Europe," the source said, highlighting that if the industrial action persisted, the government would consider keeping the foreign company on permanently.

“The government cannot give [the nine workers] a wage increase before a collective agreement is signed," it added.

Airline confirms contingency plan in place

In a statement issued Saturday evening, Air Malta confirmed it was faced with an industrial action from the operations controllers in relation to a collective agreement increase.

"This results from a dispute between two unions which are currently being heard by the industrial tribunal to decide if the operation controllers can be considered to be a separate bargaining unit," the airline said.

"Until such decision is taken the Company is not in a position to negotiate with AAOC as otherwise it would be in breach of the GWU collective agreement."

The company said it had a contingency plan in place for the continuity of the operation and had already subcontracted the service to an external specialised service provider.

As to the delays currently being incurred, Air Malta said those were mainly a result of air traffic control restrictions due to bad weather over Europe.

The airline apologised for any inconvenience caused by circumstances beyond its control and vowed to offer its passengers all the required support.

More in National