Bringing the island’s usually bustling tourism industry to a grinding halt, the current COVID-19 global crisis has had a particularly devastating effect on the country’s national airline. Now, hours after it was announced that Air Malta would be laying off 108 of its 134 pilots in an attempt to cut costs, the airline’s CEO has spoken up.
“While the company came to an agreement on a social package with a sector of the workers, we’re disappointed that both the pilot and the cabin crew unions did not sufficiently understand the problem the company’s currently going through, much like any other airline in the world,” Air Malta CEO Captain Clifford Chetcuti said in a video statement issued on Wednesday afternoon.
Chetcuti also lamented the fact that the unions did not accept proposals drawn up by Air Malta to “help save the company in this storm that’s expected to last a considerable number of months”.
“Because of this lack of co-operation, we had no other choice.”
“The COVID-19 crisis brought tourism to a halt, meaning that the airline’s cash returns from the sale of flight tickets vanished,” an accompanying statement issued by Air Malta reads.
“The Airline is currently servicing the country to fly in Maltese citizens stranded abroad, as well as bringing in crucial cargo, essential medical equipment and supplies,” it continued. “However, this is not enough to help the company maintain its current fixed payroll costs.”
As it stands, Air Malta’s operations have dwindled to a mere two flights per day, as opposed to the usual scheduled average of around 20 daily flights.
“The extraordinary amount of cancellations, and therefore reimbursements, together with the obligation to continue servicing fixed costs, such as aircraft lease payments, have led the Company to necessitate mitigation of costs, including payroll costs,” Air Malta explained.
“The Company offered Unions representing different sections of company employees, to agree on a minimum floor of the average pay of the last twelve months, capped at €1200, as basic monthly income which would be applicable for all those on indefinite and definite contracts, meaning that all employees, including staff at head office, engineers, cabin crew, and pilots would get a minimum income of €1200 monthly even if they are not required to operate and stay at home,” Air Malta clarified.
“This would have also meant that no employee is made redundant and that those employed on a definite contract would also have been retained in employment. The offer also specified that if compensation for actual work performed would (in terms of the applicable collective agreement) result in compensation in excess of €1200 in a month, they would be remunerated on the basis of the actual amount due in terms of the applicable collective agreement for the work performed.”
“Despite the company having offered the same proposal to all Unions representing different sections of its employees, it was only the Engineers union who understood the dire situation the company is in and accepted the proposal through a 90% vote by its members.”
Air Malta currently employs 333 employees who fall under the collective agreement signed with the Union of Cabin Crew.
“Of these, 188 are on an indefinite term contract, while 145 are on a fixed term contract,” Air Malta said. “Employees on a fixed term contract have already been notified that their employment will not be extended following the expiry of its current term. Apart from this, the company requires another 139 cabin crew who are on an indefinite term contract to be made redundant. The company also employs 134 employees who fall under the collective agreement signed with ALPA, all engaged through an indefinite term contract. The company requires 108 Pilots to be made redundant.”
Air Malta’s statement went on to say that, while the company’s top management has already accepted a significant pay cut in their salaries as well as the removal of allowances and perks “despite that they are still working to save the airline in these turbulent times”, it was “disappointed that the Unions were not considerate and sensitive enough to its very hard financial situation, when the aviation industry is facing the worst crisis in its history.”