The Malta Independent 17 May 2022, Tuesday

The Air Malta chop

Peter Agius Wednesday, 19 January 2022, 07:01 Last update: about 5 months ago

890 families are still coming to terms with Minister Clyde Caruana’s announcement last week that Air Malta would lay off 420 of their own working there. They still cannot understand how they are meant to decide to pack up and leave in 10 days after giving 20 or 30 years of their life to the national airline.

A few Air Malta employees got in touch this week. All were disgusted at the GWU’s complacency. They know this is Malta, where matters are polarised, politicised and blinkered, but still, they saw the union’s complacency as too much, even by these standards. They can’t fathom how the minister can say that all has been agreed with the unions when the Cabin Crew Union has been told of the plan a few hours before the announcement, with no room for questions or negotiation.


Air Malta employees who dedicated their life to the beloved knight’s cross company speak with incredulity of how a socialist government has first muzzled their right to speak out and protest and is now proceeding to dismantle the company. All this while promoting all the blue-eyed Labour boys without shame. 

‘They turned Skyparks in a ‘Kazin tal-Labour’ I was told repeatedly by those getting in touch since the minister’s shock announcement. Employees from several departments told me how, in their view, meritocracy and efficiency were thrown to the dogs in the last years at the national airline as a few anointed ones with clear political ties to Labour were given the fast track career with allegedly incompetent people promoted to management and senior management in no time.   

The transfer of 420 workers to the public sector is of little solace to the workers themselves nor to the public purse. For the workers, they are haunted by prior experience of others who were offered similar deals in the past. Their deals turned out to be a rip off, stifling professional development and salary progression which was expected before in the corporations.

How is the government now going to deploy marketing managers, flight crew and technicians in Government Ministries? Are we set for the same obscenities that happened in other sectors under Labour’s watch where highly technical people were sent to do gardening jobs? Is the public to pay out for what turns out to be a mammoth loss of competences and experiences in another mismatch exercise?

And how about the expectations of the workers for equal treatment without political favour? It was already hard enough within Air Malta where ministers and canvassers put their fangs in interview boards. Those who happen to stay away from partisan politics expect worse now in the deployment to a chosen ministry or authority.

Then there is an argument with the public purse dimension in the Minister’s solution. Some will remember that the figures of public employment were regularly under the spotlight by the European Commission back in the Gonzi days. We heard little about that for a while. For a few years, it was because the official figures of private sector employment ballooned under Clyde Caruana’s brain child policy of importing thousands of foreign workers. Once private sector numbers were on the rise, then public sector employment was less of an issue. The last few years changed that trend. Private sector employment is no longer growing. Meanwhile the 40,000 employments on public roll in 2013 grew to 50,000 and counting.

So why is the Commission not speaking up now? Well, with the pandemic, all the European Semester scrutiny process has largely been put on the backburner. Brussels does not want to nag public administrations with budgetary deficits and public employment checks right now. This gives a temporary reprieve to Abela, but keep in mind that, back in 2013, the European Commission’s recommendations were to downsize Malta’s public employment to 36,000. Those public employment figures will come back on the European and national agenda.

Back to Air Malta. Now Clyde Caruana is selling it that the excess workers were the main problem for Air Malta. It bears reminding that just before Labour’s elections in 2013 the European Commission had approved a 130 million euro restructuring plan for the national airline.

What has become of that plan? Labor failed to implement. It has now lost credibility with the European Commission. At the same time we find that Air Malta is making losses to the tune of €170,000 a day. Meanwhile the company has been drained of its assets: the Selmun Palace hotel, the Holiday Inn hotel, the landing rights at Heathrow and Gatwick, the building where it had its headquarters near the airport. All sold off. Mostly on the cheap. Air Malta has lost more than €200 million in assets. Now it is laying off also the human capital!

It is true that Air Malta’s woes did not start in 2013. Many mention the RJ-70s in PN years. But a solid company is meant to absorb a wrong turn in a year or two. How has Labour turned the tide in nine years? Yes, its nine years of lost opportunities coupled with nepotism and political discrimination that has now lead to 420 layoffs and the impending risk of losing a life link to our economy. Labour has turned incompetence into a government method. We can no longer afford that. Not with Air Malta.


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