The Malta Independent 14 July 2020, Tuesday

Judge set to issue decree on injunction against Air Malta over redundancies

Friday, 26 June 2020, 18:14 Last update: about 16 days ago

A judge is set to issue a decree from chambers on the injunction filed by pilots association ALPA against Air Malta over a planned collective redundancy of 69 pilots, as talks between the parties appeared to reach a stalemate.

Mr. Justice Toni Abela heard lawyers Andre Portelli, for ALPA and Ron Galea Cavallazzi for Air Malta exchange arguments, over the injunction, which stopped the airline from terminating or demoting different tranches of pilots.

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"The redundancies, the unilateral action and the variation of the contractual obligations - there was no form of consent or affirmation by the association to allow these demotions", Portelli said.

"The truth of the matter is that the airline is taking advantage of the covid-19 pandemic to force captains to accept worse conditions," said the lawyer.

Captain Matthew Degiorgio, a pilot with 20 years flying experience, the last 2 as a captain told the court that he, too, had received his termination notice recently.

"On 7 April collective redundancies started. ALPA started discussions with the company and was told that 108 pilots were going to have their employment terminated." But the discussions were about non-covid related issues, said the captain. An injunction was filed on 7 May. A new discussion was started, without lawyers present. These were about SPV and other structures to help efficiency, he said. "Notary Charles Mangion presided these discussions and made us sign a non-disclosure agreement before."

"We were supposed to receive a draft agreement but instead we received notices of termination sent late at night. Air Malta made our terminations effective midnight of June 8. We were denied access to our rosters and demoted."

The ALPA committee had no prior notice of this, he said. "For us it was a surprise." From 5 members on the committee ,3 were terminated and one demoted. We had been given assurances by Silvio Schembri that nobody would be fired until discussions were over, that packages would be market standard...but two days later we started receiving termination notices."

"To date we have a problem as we have no list of those affected by demotions or redundancies. We don't know the reasons or criteria for which those who were kept on were kept on."

Chief Human Resources Officer for Air Malta, James Genovese also took the witness stand. He revealed that the pilots were still being paid as Captains, despite being rostered as First Officers. But the very fact that a pilot accepted to fly as a first officer would necessitate his retraining to become a captain from the bottom of the seniority list, Portelli pointed out.

Genovese said the demotions were regulated by the collective agreement. The airline had not asked the pilots if they agreed to it beforehand, he said in reply to a series of rapid fire questions by Portelli, and neither had they consulted with the DIER before demotion.

"It was costing €5-7000 for a flight. I cannot pay that amount for 10 hours work. We aren't doing flights except repatriation."

Those being kept on are the most senior pilots, he said. 30 pilots had no change to their conditions , 32 had been demoted and 69 made redundant, he explained. The criteria used in the redundancies was last in- first out, said Genovese.

The pilots are arguing that they weren't given the criteria for choice and the list to see if they were followed or not and that there could have been discrimination.

One demoted former captain, Carmel Borg Guiliano, explained that his training would be thrown away if he was demoted. "If I choose to move to another airline, I can only be taken on as a first officer. I would have to be given all the training as a captain all over again. The fact that they had been demoted would reflect badly on their reputations," he explained.

Galea Cavallazzi confirmed to the court that the demoted captains suffered no decrease in their basic pay or allowances.

What was happening in the wider world today and the aviation industry in particular could not be ignored, he argued, insisting that the terminations and demotions were required.

"The choice was either be demoted to First Officer or be terminated and end up jobless. Now if you don't want to fly as a First Officer and prejudice your logbook, you are free to leave. I don't think the prejudice is such that it would affect your job prospects...Air Malta didn't change your conditions of work."

The court adjourned the sitting for a decree in chambers.

 

 


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