Air Malta has been forced to layoff 69 pilots after discussions between the airline’s management and pilot union ALPA on Friday, failed.
This comes as disappointing news to many and marks the latest in the ongoing ALPA-Air Malta tensions which have been going on for years.
Air Malta’s focus has, in recent years, been on profitability rather than growth. The latter strategy didn’t work out, forcing the airline to restructure which included a downsize of its operations and revisions made to its network.
The changes paid off, and in March 2019, the company reported its first profits for the first time in nearly two decades.
The coronavirus crisis, however, has brought about further issues for the airline, which was indeed focusing on maintaining profitability through 2020 and the years to come.
Air Malta was forced to initiate further discussions with its employee unions to safeguard jobs and avoid an additional downsizing of the company’s overall operation.
An agreement was reached with Air Malta’s cabin crew union, as we reported on 28 May. “As a Government we will continue to assist to see that we help the company as much as we can,” Malta’s Economy Minister Silvio Schembri said last month. Schembri noted that while the agreement with the cabin crew union was a significant step in reducing company operating costs, the same was necessary from pilot union ALPA.
Schembri described the latest tensions with ALPA with the following: “Air Malta has taken the undesired yet unavoidable decision to make a number of pilots redundant. Pilots’ Union ALPA has demanded an early retirement buyout of €73 million, which roughly equates to €700,000 per pilot. The said actions are an attempt to place a stranglehold on Airmalta's existence, especially during such sensitive times. As the Maltese government we reiterate our commitment to further support the company and its employees’ efforts for Air Malta to operate sustainably.”
In an interview with AeroNewsX in April, former Air Malta CEO, Philip Micallef, noted that job cuts would result in a weakening of the airline’s long-term competitiveness.
“Air Malta has to retain its talented and skilled people as much as possible. It should avoid cutting jobs at this stage. Now is not a time to cut jobs but to retain and seek financial assistance so that when demand picks up again it can quickly ramp up,” Micallef said.
Over the past couple of months, Air Malta’s relationship with pilot union ALPA has deteriorated. In a statement in April, ALPA questioned “the wisdom” of Air Malta Chief Executive, Captain Clifford Chetcuti. This came after Air Malta notified the Department of Industrial and Employment Relations (DIER) of its intention to layoff 108 pilots, representing 80% of its cockpit workforce without consulting the union. Furthermore, the union accused the CEO of ‘creating negative undercurrents’.