07 April 2004

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Air Malta employees express anger toward unions and government

Anger is brewing at Air Malta as employees are still in the dark as to the discussions being held between their union representatives and the airline’s management led by Chief Executive Officer Ernst Funk.
But according to a number of employees speaking to this newspaper, the anger is unlikely to lead to unofficial lightning strikes over the weekend as claimed by The Times, The Malta Independent and the Public Broadcasting Service on Monday.
Air Malta employees are particularly incensed that unions have not yet called them for a meeting. The GWU, by far the largest union at Air Malta has not convened its members but meetings have been held between the central section committee and Air Malta shop stewards.
Employees have warned union officials not to conclude any deals with management before consulting with them.
The situation is very tense but employees speaking to The Malta Financial and Business Times said they were unaware of these unofficial strikes saying that at this stage it would not be in the airline’s and their interest to embark on such action. They also described the news reports as an attempt to “corner” them into reacting.
On Monday, The Times, The Malta Independent and PBS carried similar reports that the Investments Ministry had received information that groups of “militant” workers were going to embark on unannounced industrial action during Easter weekend, a very crucial period for airline traffic. The reports also quantified the direct cost of the hypothetical industrial action on the airline’s operation. All four unions were unaware of the reports.
However, a press statement issued yesterday by the ministry for investments confirmed that the ministry had received reports of potential industrial action and passed them on to the airline’s management to prepare contingency plans if the need arises.
Investments Minister Austin Gatt was responding to a press release issued by the Labour Party in which spokespersons Karmenu Vella and Joseph Cuschieri condemned the media reports.
Meetings spurred by the investments ministry have been ongoing for the past two weeks but progress on the cost cutting measures proposed by Government has been limited.
Government hopes to conclude one agreement with all the four unions represented at Air Malta in a bid to cut operational costs and put the airline on sound financial footing. The cost-cutting, which is to be applied across the board, would see the employees’ take home pay take a dip.
The restructuring exercise aims to redefine or cut a number of conditions and fringe benefits that have been introduced over the years separate from the collective agreements.
Investments Ministry officials are adamant that unless Air Malta restructures it could face serious financial problems and possible closure in less than two years. Government is not ready to proceed with Lm30 million in re-capitalisation, a must for the airline to continue functioning internationally, unless agreement is reached on cost cutting. Government has said that basic wages will not be touched.
Investments Minister Austin Gatt has given himself an Easter deadline by when the agreement is to be reached, however this may extend well into next week.

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
The Malta Financial & Business Times, Newsworks Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann
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