Pilots association and Air Malta sign collective agreement

The Airline Pilots Association and Air Malta’s management have negotiated a new collective agreement covering the period from 1 August 2007 to 31 July 2010. This agreement, signed in January 2008 after seven months of discussions, was described as a win-win situation by both sides. The trade union’s threats to take strike action during the discussion period did not materialise. The proposed financial package was the main stumbling block during the talks.

Since September 2007, the Air Malta pilots, together with the major trade unions representing them, have been in negotiations to draw up a new collective agreement. The pilots were complaining about poor working conditions, including unstructured roster patterns and low financial benefits. The protracted discussions together with these conditions led the pilots to take various forms of action, such as a ‘dress down’ protest at the end of August 2007. The Airline Pilots Association Malta (ALPA) – the trade union representing the pilots – stated that it would consider taking stronger measures of protest. Air Malta was surprised at ALPA’s actions, as the company believed that such measures only hindered the ongoing discussions.

Nevertheless, ALPA continued to step up its protest actions as the collective agreement was taking too long to be signed. Air Malta alleged that ALPA ordered the pilots to breach the current collective agreement and follow an unofficial ‘work to rule’ resulting in the inflexibility of the cockpit crew. This purportedly led to flight delays and disruptions in the airline’s everyday operations. The signing of a rescue plan by four trade unions – including ALPA, the Union of Cabin Crew (UCC), the General Workers’ Union (GWU), and the Association of Airline Engineers (AAE) – and the government in 2004 (MT0407101N, MT0701019I) led to a proportion of the pilots’ salary being given back to the company. Furthermore, ALPA claimed that pilots were unable to take all of their entitled leave for two years. During the negotiations, the pilots asked for industry standard salaries and better working arrangements. However, according to Air Malta, ALPA’s proposals would harm its financial standing.

Strike threat

In December 2007, since an amicable agreement was not reached after four months of negotiations, ALPA threatened to take strike action. The financial package was reported as the main stumbling block towards renewal of the collective agreement. Apart from the pay issue, pilots also highlighted the importance of their holiday leave. The trade union organised a secret ballot where pilots were asked to vote in favour of or against this industrial action. In total, 114 out of the 117 pilots who took part in the December ballot voted in favour of strike action.

The continued industrial action taken by ALPA and the strike threat close to the Christmas season led the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) to express concerns. The association pleaded to both sides to work together and reach an agreement, as a strike during one of the busiest holiday seasons would have a negative effect on the tourism sector. This put further pressure on the government and Air Malta to settle the pending issues quickly.

Agreement reached

A provisional agreement was signed in December 2007 between Air Malta and ALPA. Following this, ALPA’s President, James Fenech, stated that both sides wanted to reach an agreement and that his association would only call for strike action as a last resort. The pilots agreed to cut their pay increase from 15% to 5% in the first two years of the agreement. Thus, in January 2008, a new collective agreement was signed. The new agreement, covering the period from 1 August 2007 to 31 July 2010, was described as a win-win situation by both parties. Among its provisions, the agreement stipulates an increase in flying hours in line with legal limitations, better scheduling of rosters and a salary increase weighted towards the end of the three-year period.

Christine Farrugia and Manwel Debono, Centre for Labour Studies

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