The industrial action taken by Air Malta pilots on Monday was not linked to early retirement funds but was instead in response to ‘threats and intimidation.’
The court heard today from the airline pilots union ALPA, that they had suggested a representative be withdrawn from the talks being held over their collective agreement.
The union said that their members had received a hostile attitude from Air Malta’s flight operations chief.
The court proceedings, in which both ALPA and Air Malta gave submissions, come after the former had ordered its members to carry out industrial action on Monday morning.
This resulted in a number of early morning flights being delayed by 30 minutes. The industrial action was subsequently called off in the afternoon after a court upheld Air Malta’s statement that it was damaging and prejudicial to the business.
It was believed that the industrial action had been sparked by the demands for 2/3rds of salaries to be paid to pilots before the age of retirement, in the event that the company fell on hard times. This was flatly rejected by the airline. According to the Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi, this early retirement sum was in the region of €700,000. He called the demand, ‘impossible.’
The call for the early payments had initially been seen to have been sparked by the introduction of Ryanair’s ‘Malta Air; subsidiary. The Maltese government is understood to have a major share in this company.
Not the issue, Debono is
During statements, ALPA told the court that this hadn’t been the issue and in fact it stemmed from collapsing talks connected to Air Malta’s decision not to remove the chief flight operations officer Emvic Debono from them.
ALPA representatives explained that they had made the call to remove Captain Debono from the talks on June 18th. This was subsequently ignored and he had been present right up until the 28th June.
Threats and calls for resignation
ALPA’s Capt Degiorgio said that a number of threats of disciplinary action had been posed towards members of the ALPA executive committee by Debono.
Three cases were brought against members of the Executive Committee but due to a lack of evidence and justification, they were dropped.
Seeing Captain Debono as a danger to the talks, Captain Degiorgio said that industrial action was seen as being ‘in the best interests of both parties.’ Debono is describes as being an, ‘impediment and a hindrance for talks to be concluded.’
When asked why industrial action was the option they took, Captain Degiorgio said that, ‘It was only because Air Malta persisted in sending Emvic Debono as its mouthpiece in the discussions that they were doomed to fail.’
A Whatsapp message was sent to a secret group preparing pilots for industrial action for July 1st. Degiorgio explained that this somehow ended up being leaked to heads of Air Malta’s management.
Early retirement scheme
When asked about the request by ALPA for a ‘guarantee’ over the early retirement scheme payment which sat at €700,000, Captain Degiorgio explained that, ‘‘the spin is not true, we’ve never discussed early retirement schemes,‘ He added that they, ‘asked for permanent health insurance guarantees‘ This had been ‘lost’ through the revision of the collective agreement and ALPA wanted it retained.
Excuse for industrial action
During the cross examination, the lawyer representing Air Malta Dr Ronald Galea Cavallazzi, asked the pilot if there had been any discussion of guarantees with the state.
Degiorgio said there had not, nor had there been any discussions with the state on this.
Drawing on an email about the formal request for Debono’s withdrawal, the lawyer called the move merely an excuse to carry out the industrial action.
He said that the Union had to fulfill its obligations legally and contractually and that it had, ‘no divine right to take industrial action.’
Estimated daily loss of €160,000
Giving testimony to the court, Air Malta’s Chief Commercial Officer Paul Sies explained that had the industrial action been followed through, it would’ve cost the company €160,000 every day.
Sies explained that it had the knock on effect of motivating passengers to avoid flying with Air Malta or to choose to delay flying with them.
As for its relationships with other companies, this would impact on its code-sharing with other airline partners.
On the issue of the 30 minute delay, Sies explained that the airline already has an average of 19 minutes delay in its service. The added 11 minutes was not seen as a huge added impact.
Bad weather had delayed flights inbound to Malta, he added.
Lawsuits and freezing of assets
The court also heard from one of the Union Committee members Dr Andre Portelli ALPA Counsel. Dr Portelli explained that five of the Union Executive Committee members had faced lawsuits which could’ve risked them having their assets frozen. This would’ve happened if the injunction request had been upheld.
Decision in chambers
Following the court hearing, it was decided that the outcome would be given in chambers.
While the law provides one month for the decision to be made, Justice Abela called on both parties to find a solution.
‘This is a national airline. There are no winners or losers in a court case. Take this opportunity to seek a solution so that goodwill might prevail, he said.’