Air Malta withdraws ‘final proposal’ to reverse pilots’ redundancies hours ahead of meeting

Air Malta pilots are incensed at the national airline and particularly the government – its shareholder – as a final proposal negotiated last week to reach a compromise on their future was suddenly withdrawn ahead of a meeting on Monday.

As pilots were expected to meet and vote on the latest proposal on Monday – dubbed as ‘final’ by the company, in which cockpit crew accepted to take a significant wage cut until 2023, as long as all pilots keep their jobs, airline officials informed the pilots’ union ALPA on Sunday that the airline was withdrawing its offer.

According to the deal, negotiated between the airline and ALPA last Wednesday, the agreement was awaiting the pilot’s green light during a meeting scheduled on Monday morning.

Sources have told The Shift that it seems the court’s decision last Friday, through which Judge Toni Abela did not uphold ALPA’s request for a prohibitory injunction against the redundancies was enough for Air Malta to play for more time.

“The latest twist of events just shows the amateurish way Air Malta is dealing with its most valuable employees and the steering of the company at large,” senior company officials said.

“Only children take back their promises when something happens to come their way. An agreement had been reached and they should stick to it. Now, obviously, Air Malta will use the court decision to try to gain more from the pilots while continuing to threaten them with losing their jobs. This is short-sighted.”

In his judgment last Friday, Judge Abela said he could not issue an injunction to stop the redundancies as the decision had already been taken before the court action was filed. Yet the court did stop Air Malta from leaving in effect its decision on demotions.

According to the ‘Final Proposal’ agreed between Air Malta and ALPA last week, Air Malta agreed to withdraw all redundancies and reverse all demotions with immediate effect in exchange for significant wage cuts by the pilots until 2023.

The proposal, seen by The Shift, states that “the company shall re-employ the 69 pilots whose employment was terminated on grounds of redundancy effective as of 8 June 2020, thereby retaining all crew.”

Also, all demotions notified to Captains “will be reversed”.

In return, a new remuneration structure had been agreed until the end of 2022, through which pilots were to receive a full basic pay during the summer schedule and cut their basic salary by 35% during the winter schedule.

Pilots also accepted to have a pay cut of up to 50% between next month and the end of October, which will vary according to the number of aircraft Air Malta will operate during the COVID-19 recovery period.

The deal reached between Air Malta and the pilots also includes other significant changes such as the slashing of transport provision for all pilots and changes to early retirement schemes and other benefits.

Although the agreement has now been withdrawn, sources said pilots still have their trump card in hand which guarantees their future and compromises the company’s room for negotiations.

Two months ago, when Air Malta first tried to lay off 80% of its pilots, The Shift revealed a unique job guarantee given to all pilots by then Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi.

In a side letter that was part of the collective agreement signed between Air Malta and ALPA in 2018, the former minister gave pilots a guarantee through a side letter negotiated through the legal representative at the time – Robert Abela, who is now prime minister.

“The government is giving all pilots a guarantee of a job in Malta and a take home pay, according to the conditions of the collective agreement signed also today,” the 2018 side letter states.

The legal validity of the side letter stands until a new collective agreement is signed.

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