Air Malta pilots will be deciding by secret ballot between Thursday and Friday whether they will scale up industrial actions with a suspension of service.
In its most vociferous threat to Air Malta management so far, the Airline Pilots Association’s (ALPA) president James Fenech said 55 pilots present for an extraordinary general meeting yesterday were unanimously backing strike action.
“Since we cannot take a proper vote during an EGM, because other pilots are flying, we will open a 24 hour ballot between Thursday and Friday,” Captain James Fenech told MaltaToday yesterday.
The vote will be open to ALPA’s 135 pilots.
Unless Air Malta resume negotiations over denied vacation leave, pilots may opt for either a full or limited suspension of service affecting specific times of service.
James Fenech said the airline wants to give each pilot just an average of 19 days vacation leave, but ALPA are demanding their statutory 24 days apart from any unclaimed vacation leave which will carry over into the new year.
“Our members are saying ‘enough’. We see Air Malta in its present situation and we have seen our contribution to the airline, and we want Air Malta to resolve this situation,” Fenech said.
ALPA has claimed pilots have not been able to take all their leave for the past two years. Although legally only 12 days may be carried over to next year, quite a few will be ending 2007 with around 40 days leave pending.
In a statement last Saturday, ALPA Said this situation placed Air Malta in an awkward position since it would be forced to grant the pending vacation leave to pilots during the next three months. “This leads to the question of who will be flying Air Malta’s aircraft early next year,” the association said.
The ALPA president also said members yesterday said their vote on strike action should not only be tied to the issue of vacation leave, but also on other pending issues concerning the suspended collective agreement and other matters related to Air Malta’s wet lease to the fledgling airline Etihad, based in the United Arab Emirates.
“Our members are adamant to tie this action to the unresolved collective agreement and Etihad, where up to this day the airline has not yet finalised any work conditions,” Fenech said. “We had asked that Air Malta pilots flying Etihad should be given an extra day of company time as a rest period, apart from their two days off each week and the full contractual rest period for pilots, since they are flying to new destinations such as Delhi, which require their 100% attention. “Despite our requests, Air Malta steamed ahead with the Etihad wet lease – we never stopped this project, because we felt it was good for Air Malta, but still it ignored our requests,” Fenech said.
Air Malta’s pilots are requesting a collective agreement that will increase their salaries substantially after accepting a three-year rescue plan back in 2004 which included salary cuts for pilots and cabin crew. Captains were paying back Lm100 every month to the national airline from their salaries, for the past three years.
On its part, Air Malta said it has never showed reluctance to negotiate with any union. “Since Air Malta and ALPA have been unable to reach an agreement, the airline has informed ALPA that it considers the two sides to be in dispute and has invoked the provisions of the current collective agreement which provide for Compulsory Private Conciliation.
“The airline has insisted ALPA’s salary requests go beyond the capacity of the company to absorb the high cost in the current circumstances and is unsustainable.
“Air Malta has highlighted the fact these talks are intended to resolve situations like these without any negative impact on operations and customers. They are also a sign there is willingness on behalf of the airline to conclude negotiations with ALPA.”
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