The Malta Independent 24 June 2018, Sunday

Government won’t be backed into any corners, PM tells Air Malta pilots

Helena Grech Sunday, 14 January 2018, 11:40 Last update: about 6 months ago

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has warned Air Malta pilots that the government will not be backed into any corners when negotiating restructuring packages relating to work conditions and salaries.

He was speaking at a political activity where he warned that the government will be taking the interests of the Maltese people together will all other Air Malta staff and will not allow itself to be pressured by a minority group’s demands that threatens to bring the country’s economy to its knees.

The country’s national airline, Air Malta, has been a hot potato for government after government due to mismanagement resulting into poor company finances. EU state aid rules means that the government cannot inject any more funds into the company so intensive restructuring and strategising has been deemed necessary to ensure that Malta continues to have a national airline.

In an unusual move, Muscat publically took aim at the Airline Pilots’ Association (ALPA) where it took issue with the pilots’ demands.

He described how for example, if an industry standard requires pilots to work 100 hours per week, these pilots are in fact working about half of the industry standard. Muscat said that this was the case because of a lack of work but now that the government has geared its strategy for Air Malta to grow, pilots must now put in the extra hours, matched by increases in wages.

He stressed that Air Malta is not a part-time job, this is a case of pilots not wanting to change previous practices.

“I have been cautioned that no Prime Minister has, in some way, challenged the pilots and got its way.”

Muscat said he is here to protect those pilots who want to work, the cabin crew, baggage handlers and the like, and the Maltese public.

“I hope that the Opposition will support us on this issue. This is a clear issue on how we want the country to progress. I cannot have some workers who in some way feel they are privileged, all workers are the same. My appeal to the pilots, the government will not be backed into a corner. The government is ready for all eventualities so that Malta will continue to have its national airline.

“Government is ready to take all legal measures to protect the interests of the company and the interests of Malta and Gozo.”

Muscat even went so far as to describe some of the increases that have been offered, such as a proposed €72,000 for first officers and one of €100,000 for flight captains.

“We want an Air Malta that is growing, and we wanted to be the airline of the Mediterranean. We want it the connection point for many different nations in the heart of the Mediterranean”.

Muscat said that the authorities have met with all stakeholders, engineers, cabin crew, handlers and more. He said that there will be no reduction in wages, but that the government will match the best wage workers have received over the past four years.

He said that workers have agreed with this decision, adding that all this can come into jeopardy through discussions with the pilots. Muscat said that he will take political accountability on this, adding that the government will not be pressured and that its biggest stakeholder is the Maltese public.

“I will not let a group of 50 people prejudice Malta’s economy for one reason or another. I am being clear about this: everyone is free to make their own decisions but must shoulder responsibility of those decisions”.

He said that pilots have shown interest in government’s offer, but that if a different route needs to be taken then “so be it.”

Muscat added that he will not jeopardise the many businesses that rely on tourism and a healthy airline based on the interests of a minority group.

He said that many pilots understand that this is the right decision for Air Malta. Muscat said that he never threatened to reduce their wages or freeze them, and that the proposed increases are in line with industry standards.

Muscat spoke of high expectations for the upcoming year, describing a feeling of enthusiasm and courage.

He said that his first message is that records will continue to be broken in 2018, saying it will be a year of success for all.

He explained that the government’s role is to ensure that everybody feels the benefits from a growing economy.

“We will continue to ensure more jobs and more wealth for this country,” he said to applause.

Muscat criticised the Opposition for preferring a debt-oriented strategy when it comes to public investments rather than turning to the private sector.

“Debt is like an addictive drug and this government has cut off this habit”.

Ironically, the Medical Association of Malta has accused the government of entering into a “fishy” deal with Vitals Global Healthcare on the Public Private Partnership of three state hospitals. It called into question why Parliament approved €34 million in payments to VGH when clearly €34 million worth of works have not been carried out by the elusive company.

Muscat said that the government is proud of entering an economic model where the distribution of wealth is prioritised.

“This week, if we did not take the historical decision five years ago to reform the energy sector, we would be discussing how next month the government needs to increase the price of electricity.”

He highlighted how the price of oil has exploded, and that through the government’s strategy it has guaranteed that the price of electricity will remain stable through guarantees it has made.

One of the main concerns about the Nationalist Party after it lost power in 2013 was the high price of water and electricity, made worse by an oil scandal brought to light shortly before the 2013 general election.

Muscat said the government is not finished with reforms in the energy sector, but stressed that the current certainty in prices is essential to a healthy economy.

 

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