21 April 2004

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Air Malta agreement so near and yet so far

By Kurt Sansone

The much-awaited final agreement on the restructuring of Air Malta was not signed yesterday. But in a brief 20-minute meeting between the four unions concerned and Investments Minister Austin Gatt, both parties agreed on a way forward.
A series of meetings are scheduled over the next few days to thrash out a number of pending issues. All parties present for yesterday’s meeting pledged not to talk to the media but sources told The Malta Financial and Business Times that no deadline has been set for a final agreement even if all parties undertook to reach an agreement as early as possible.
The situation at Air Malta looked as if it was heading towards a gridlock after government’s proposals for restructuring were met with disdain by the four unions represented at the airline.
The breakthrough came after former GWU legal advisor George Abela was roped in by the four unions to act as their facilitator. On Friday the unions presented a united front when submitting their counter proposals to government.
Dr Austin Gatt reacted positively to the unions’ proposals and immediately announced a series of cost cutting measures for the airline’s management and went ahead with the Lm30 million recapitalisation.Despite the positive vibes, Air Malta employees are still anxious about their future. Agreement is so near and yet so far, Air Malta employees told The Malta Financial and Business Times yesterday. They realise the importance of pulling the same rope to save the national airline and their jobs but at the same time fear that their quality of life will take a nose dive as a result of the restructuring.
Air Malta’s core business has been loss-making for the last three years and government has signalled its intention to turn round the airline’s fortunes by cutting expenditure. On Friday, unions insisted that cost cutting must also be accompanied with increased efforts to generate new revenue.
The groundwork for a final agreement seems to be in place but everything depends on the intense negotiations that will be held throughout this week and possibly the next.

kurt@newsworksltd.com



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