Malta: Latest working life developments – Q4 2017

Efforts to secure the economic viability of Air Malta by implementing four new collective agreements and several disagreements between the government and professional trade unions are the main points of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Malta in the fourth quarter of 2017.

New collective agreements to secure Air Malta

A five-year plan agreed with the European Commission in 2011 established that Air Malta was to become economically viable and no longer dependent on state aid by March 2016. The national flagship airline posted a loss of €16 million in its most recently published accounts for the year ending 2015.

As a result, the four unions representing four different categories of Air Malta employees were asked in November to accept new collective agreements offered by the government. Three – the Association of Airline Engineers (AAE), the Union of Cabin Crew (UCC) and the General Workers’ Union (GWU) – agreed the terms and signed their collective agreements with the government on 30 November 2017. The terms included a pay rise, although the amount has not been made public, and changes to some conditions of work. The UCC, for instance, agreed to a cost-cutting measure that reduces the number of cabin crew from five to four on each flight. Ground staff, represented by the GWU, agreed to be transferred to a new state-run company with a guarantee that present conditions of work will be retained.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had urged the pilots’ union to follow suit and sign their collective agreement, which Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi said offers good terms. The government is expecting this agreement to be signed shortly. Pilots are, however, concerned about the number of hours they are expected to work under the proposed new agreement.

Professional unions challenge government regarding pay and working conditions

In the fourth quarter of 2017, the government had to face a number of challenges from unions representing the associate professionals.

In October 2017, the Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses (MUMN) threatened partial industrial action to force the government to sign a new collective agreement. MUMN insisted that the agreement should not only revise salaries, but should also address working conditions and the pressures created by a national shortage of about 500 nurses and midwives. The union said these problems were contributing to members’ feelings of ‘burn-out’. Following a conciliatory meeting in October between the MUMN and Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne, an agreement was reached and industrial action suspended.

Following this agreement, a second industrial conflict surfaced with the teaching profession. The Malta Union of Teachers (MUT) held a day-long strike on 8 November 2017 involving all teachers employed in state and church schools. The union demanded a 20% pay rise and better working conditions. Adopting a placatory tone, the government stated that it was willing to discuss the MUT proposals. In a meeting on 7 November, the Minister for Education, Evaris​t Bartolo, and the MUT reached an agreement that included a 20% pay rise. No details were given about how or when this pay rise was to come into effect.

These two agreements triggered a chain reaction as other unions representing associate professionals, such as social workers, speech language pathologists, physiotherapists, podiatrists and occupational therapists, asked for similar improvements to pay and working conditions. The Malta Association of Social Workers said that it fully recognised the value of teachers’ work, but urged the government ‘to show the same commitment to the social work profession, who work with the most vulnerable members of society’.

Commentary

The collective bargaining process at Air Malta involving four unions shows how complex it can be to reach agreement in this type of multi-layered organisation. However, the agreements signed with the MUT and MUMN, and the reactions of other unions to those agreements, confirms that the relativity of wages is a cornerstone of trade unionism. Other employees expect their salaries to be increased in line with those of nurses and teachers.

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