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Pilot Union files judicial protest against Prime Minister and Air Malta for ‘abusive and illegal acts’

Economy Minister Silvio Schembri stands near an Air Malta plane. Photo: DOI

The Association of Airline Pilots Malta (ALPA) on Wednesday filed a judicial protest against Prime Minister Robert Abela, Air Malta, Economy Minister Silvio Schembri, Tourism Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli and Malta Air Travel Limited (Malta Med Air) for the “suffering”, loss of jobs and demotions of its members.

In the protest, the union said it is holding them responsible for the “suffering and future suffering from abusive and illegal acts” which the pilots have endured in recent months.

They formally asked Abela, Schembri and Farrugia Portelli to “honor (their) legal and contractual obligations” and make the necessary arrangements in order to provide work in Malta and take-home pay, according to the conditions of their collective agreement.

The collective agreement, set to expire at the end of 2022, had been negotiated by disgraced former Minister Konrad Mizzi and negotiated by Prime Minister Robert Abela who was the government’s legal consultant at the time.

In June, Air Malta fired 69 of its pilots, a majority of whom had been with the national airline for many years, “if not decades”, the judicial protest pointed out.

It also noted that Malta Med Air, despite being launched in 2018, operated its first flight in August 2020, and has since taken on some of the pilots who were dismissed from Air Malta as self-employed.

ALPA deemed such employment, conducted by Brookfield Aviation International Limited, a recruitment agency registered in the UK, as being done “under precarious conditions”. The pilots, made redundant by Air Malta in June, are being offered work in a self-employed capacity for a six- month period.

“These precarious atypical employment arrangements have been conjured up in an attempt at avoiding statutory guarantees available to employees proper, such as those relating to collective bargaining rights and basic employment guarantees, including annual vacation leave, sickness benefits and maternity leave. These tri-partite ‘fake self-employment’ arrangements also pose clear safety risks to pilots operating under such disproportionate pressure,” the association said in a statement.

In June, The Shift reported that the Air Malta pilots were incensed at the national airline and particularly the government – its shareholder – as a final proposal negotiated to reach a compromise on their future was suddenly and unexpectedly withdrawn ahead of a meeting between the parties.

Malta Med Air had until recently played a supporting role to Air Malta but, in August, Schembri announced that it will now be operating scheduled services to a number of destinations across Europe, and has plans to increase its staff.

Mizzi had initially said that the government had no plans for Malta Med Air to become a fully-fledged airline, but then last year suggested that Malta Med Air could take over Air Malta’s growth plan if Air Malta and its pilots did not resolve their issues.

European pilot association slams Air Malta’s dismissal

The formal protest follows a statement by the European Cockpit Association (ECA) on Tuesday, who said that the dismissal and subsequent “bogus self-employment” of the pilots was illegitimate and must be annulled.

The association, representing some 40,000 pilots throughout Europe, said that it “deeply deplores” the decision by Air Malta to dismiss 60% of its pilots.

In light of the pandemic, the ECA said it is important to avoid abuse and “opportunistic behaviours by certain actors”.

“We have learned that Air Malta is allegedly transferring part of its charter business to the wholly-owned Government of Malta airline Med Air, which would be operating those flights with bogus self-employed pilots hired through a UK placement agency,” ECA President Jon Horne wrote.

Such a transfer violates EU law, which forbids dismissing workers during the transfer of a business, it noted. They also explained that having pilots who are self-employed is illegal.

“Your government must act to prevent such abuses, especially given the strong economic links of your administration with this airline and especially during this crisis. It is unthinkable and socially intolerable that 69 Maltese pilots were dismissed and, for carrying out the same activity, some weeks later they are replaced by bogus self-employed crews through a foreign broker agency,” it added.

If Malta does not act, it will infringe EU law, allow abusive practices to manifest and the Maltese government will be considered “Europe’s new flag of convenience in aviation”.

Flags of Convenience distort the internal market, undermine social rights and are against the objectives of the EU,” he concluded.

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