Updated | Air Malta goes to court to stop pilots’ industrial action

The pilots' union has warned Air Malta it will direct its members not to train cadets from Qatar Airways unless an agreement on pilots' insurance is reached by Monday • ALPA accuses Air Malta of issuing 'false statement' 

Air Malta filed a warrant of prohibitory injunction to stop industrial action by Air Malta's pilots
Air Malta filed a warrant of prohibitory injunction to stop industrial action by Air Malta's pilots

Air Malta filed a warrant of prohibitory injunction in court on Friday to stop its pilots' union from carrying out industrial action over its latest dispute with the airline. 

MaltaToday has learnt that the union notified Air Malta of imminent industrial action if a resolution is not found to a pending dispute regarding a number of issues including pilots’ permanent health insurance (PHI) and reimbursement for denied off days.

They said that ALPA had notified the airline of its intention to start industrial action if an agreement isn’t reached by Monday night. 

The union is expected to direct its members not to train 20 cadets from Qatar Airways who are currently undergoing training with Air Malta. Such action would not impact any of Air Malta's passengers but would negatively impact what is a lucrative revenue stream for the airline.

The agreement to train the cadets was concluded during an official trip to Qatar last July, during which Tourism minister Konrad Mizzi held talks with Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker.

The disputed insurance is a type of insurance which covers pilots against any injury that could prevent them from flying any longer. It ensures they continue to receive their salary for a period of time in such an eventuality.

The cover was included in the collective agreement signed in January, however Air Malta has since been notified that this type of cover would no longer be offered by the insurance broker.

Pilots argue that the agreement was signed with the coverage included and that had they known it was to be discontinued, they would not have voted in favour of the agreement. The union must therefore now work out a way of providing the coverage, or of adequately replacing it, together with the airline.

On its part, the airline appears to have accepted that a solution must be found, but is unwilling to meet all of the union’s demands.

An airline source who also spoke to MaltaToday said that Air Malta had agreed to offer the coverage for a period of six months, while also offering to double the coverage from another, separate, type of insurance against the loss of a pilot’s license until a solution is found. They said that the offer was dependent on a guarantee of “industrial peace” and more cooperation by the pilots.

Another bone of contention appears to be reimbursement of pilots for flying on an off-day. Pilots are contractually owed 104 off-days per year over and above the 24 they are entitled to by law because they do not have a regular roster.

Pilots who do not get this amount of off-days over a 12-month period, must be reimbursed for their denied off-days. The sources said that as things stand, it was only a handful of pilots who were likely to find themselves in this situation come the end of the year.

They said that most were non-union members who were helping the airline out when pilot shortages arise, and while it was only a handful who would need to be reimbursed, the union was demanding that all pilots be paid.

The relationship between Air Malta and ALPA has soured over the last 12 months, even after the signing of the new collective agreement in January and there appears to be a lack of trust on both sides of negotiations, resulting in a rapid escalation whenever disputes arise.

The present dispute isn't the first to force Air Malta to seek protection from the courts. Last April the airline filed a similar warrant to stop pilots enforcing a directive stopping members from flying a new aircraft Air Malta had just taken delivery of, and which did not possess a cockpit voice recorder erase button, despite a requirement for it in the collective agreement.

Air Malta statement

In a statement on Saturday, Air Malta said that following the signing of the collective agreement, discussions had taken place between ALPA and the company over the “interpretation of various parts of the collective agreement”, adding that the way in which ALPA was interpreting clauses in the agreement is “deemed disadvantageous and unfair to Air Malta”.  

“Over the past months ALPA has issued several recommendations to its members to follow restrictive practices that limit flexibility and productivity. These recommendations have negatively affected the airline and its customers and caused delays on several flights,” Air Malta said.

It pointed to a flight to Paris Orly which was cancelled last month, insisting that the cancellation was the result of inflexibility created by ALPA’s recommendations to pilots not to accept the flight on and off-day when all standby pilots called in sick.

ALPA reaction

ALPA said that contrary to what had been stated by Air Malta the latest dispute concerned the discriminatory way in which a pilot was recently suspended following over a Facebook comment that was picked up by the media, “Air Malta issuing illegal rosters which inherently cause pilot fatigue levels”, and the airline “not having enough pilots to guarantee the minimum number of days off”.

ALPA said it could not understand why Air Malta had issued "such a false statement". 

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