Malta: Latest working life developments – Q3 2016

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The restructuring exercise at Air Malta, which is nearing its end, and the changes to the Industrial Tribunal are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Malta in the third quarter of 2016.

Turbulence at Air Malta

The restructuring exercise at national airline Air Malta, which is undergoing a merger with Alitalia, is reaching its final phase. Trade unions representing different categories of employees have been asking the government for clarification about the future employment of their members.

In protest over the delays to the renewal of the collective agreement, the Airline Pilots Association (ALPA) directed pilots not to wear caps and jackets. This symbolic action was due to be followed by industrial action, which would have caused flight delays and suspension of services. A court upheld Air Malta’s plea to stop the action but this was later revoked by the appeal court. Following the appeal court ruling, the parties returned to the negotiation table and the government and ALPA reached an agreement.

Two days after this agreement was reached, the Union of Cabin Crew (UCC) instructed its members to work to rule by sticking to their roster and not accepting any flights that encroached on their leave days. The UCC had requested written assurances that all cabin crew members would keep their jobs and present salaries.

The General Workers’ Union (GWU) was also in discussion with the government over a proposal that ground staff would be transferred to a new public company that will service the airline following the merger.

Changes to the Industrial Tribunal

On 12 February 2016, the constitutional court ruled that the Employment and Industrial Relations Act (EIRA 2002, Chapter 452 of the Malta Laws) did not provide an adequate guarantee of impartiality in the setting up of the Industrial Tribunal. Amendments have now been made to rectify this shortcoming, including:

  • chairpersons to the Tribunal are to be appointed for five years instead of three;
  • chairpersons can be removed by the Prime Minister and ordinary members can be removed by the minister;
  • the Employment Relations Board (ERB), a tripartite institution, may be consulted about dismissal of chairs and members;
  • the reappointment of a chairperson will not be made if two-thirds of ERB members are against it;
  • members appointed by trade unions or employer organisations can be reappointed only with the approval of at least 50% of ERB members;
  • dismissals can be appealed on a point of law by referral to the Court of Appeal.

Commentary

The wholesale changes to the Tribunal that some industrial relations actors were expecting did not materialise. Instead, the amendments are designed as interim measures to reactivate the Tribunal’s operations, which had stalled following the court judgement. The amendments have given the ERB a higher profile and at the same time have enhanced the legitimacy of the process of social dialogue. These two themes are likely to be the dominant issues in the next quarter.

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