An organisation that cares about its employees would have a grievance handling process to ensure that those who feel aggrieved by a management decision can have their complaint heard by an independent person transparently to resolve the issue speedily. It is the human resources management’s responsibility to ensure such a process is as credible as possible, because otherwise, the credibility of the whole organisation is put at risk.

The Tourism Ministry has just re­launched a third grievance process to investigate alleged injustices that Air Malta employees may have suffered before 2013. The reasons given for this move is that several former employees of the national carrier might not have been made aware of the possibility to submit a grievance case. A ministry spokesman said that the grievance process relaunch seeks to remedy this and to ensure that all employees benefit from the same treatment.

However much the Ministry of Tourism tries to rationalise the setting up of a third grievances board to look into alleged injustices committed before 2013 one can hardly be blamed for harbouring serious doubts on the credibility of this initiative launched a few days before elections. True, Air Malta is owned by the government but the management should have been wiser than launching on the eve of an election a controversial scheme evidently aimed at addressing employee complaints based on alleged political abuse more than six years ago.

The Minister for Tourism, representing the main shareholder, is expected to give general direction but must be careful not to overstep his political role by assuming the executive responsibilities of chairman and CEO. Such attitude is certainly not right for the governance of a company facing difficulties in delivering the restructuring results it promised to the Maltese people, who are financing it, and to the European Commission.

Former ombudsman Joseph Said Pullicino expressed concern over the setting up of grievance boards, insisting they “may not always be fully transparent and independent and in many cases lack proper direction and criteria”. The airline’s chairman, directors and CEO stick out in this matter by being silent and not very involved in this clear management process.

Air Malta still has formidable challenges ahead of it to prove that the hundreds of millions of euros in State aid granted to it over the past several years will give the company a reasonable chance of operating profitably in the years to come. Taxpayers and competition regulators need to be convinced that the airline is not being managed by political proxy but by a professional team of directors and senior executives who always aim to do what is right for the company rather than to appease some vociferous employees with political credentials.

The Tourism Minister should act as a shareholder and refrain from taking initiatives that fall under the responsibility of the board and senior executives of Air Malta. After all, Air Malta belongs to the whole Maltese nation and the minister and the government are only stewards of the company.

The feudal mentality that exploits the symbiosis between politicians and the electorate in the political cycle increases the risks of mismanagement in public organisations like Air Malta.

All must be convinced that taxpayers’ money for restructuring Air Malta is being used judiciously. Everybody wants Air Malta to continue flying.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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