When you run a business that depends on the hard work of hundreds of people, it’s difficult having to imagine criticising them in public. If an employee does something that could harm the business, you try your best to deal with it internally.
But when a small part of that workforce – ironically the part that is best paid and best treated – threatens publicly to bring the whole operation to its knees, it’s time to speak up. It is with a heavy heart, therefore, that I must write this in the hope that reason finally prevails.
As everybody knows, Air Malta is going through its most critical phase yet, finalising an agreement with a strategic partner that would give the airline the longevity it needs.
The indications are that negotiations with Alitalia are on the right track. In the coming days we will be thoroughly analysing the proposed business plan we believe will be the blueprint for a modern, profitable and successful Air Malta. We aspire to move away from a national airline that loses millions year after year to an Air Malta that strives in a competitive market as a member of a family of airlines. This would result in huge procurement advantages, improved systems and also a better deal for the Maltese consumer who will enjoy cheaper air fares, among other advantages.
But the pilots’ association is putting all of this in jeopardy by threatening to strike during the peak season simply because we are still in the process of discussing their collective agreements.
The discussions are being mediated by President Emeritus George Abela. We are doing everything we can to reach compromises that make sense for the company and the workers. But the pilots’ association’s attitude remains unreasonable and self-serving.
Their behaviour has even disappointed many Air Malta employees, including fellow pilots, who have spoken to me personally about their reservations.
Any industrial action in the peak of summer will inflict irreparable damage to businesses in the tourism sector
If the pilots bring the airline to its knees in peak season we can lose more than €500,000 a day. A week will take us back to square one. Years of hard work to balance the books crushed in a week.
But what does this really mean? Not much to some of the pilots. They can try finding employment elsewhere. But what about the rest? What about the hundreds of other employees of Air Malta?
While we are doing everything we can to protect these jobs despite difficult market conditions, the pilots are carelessly putting them in jeopardy. It is this callous behaviour that makes it so difficult to stay silent.
It is not only these people, Air Malta employees, who will be affected. It’s their families too. And what about the families of people all over Malta whose jobs depend on the tourism industry of which Air Malta is a huge contributor?
Any industrial action in the peak of summer will inflict irreparable damage to businesses in the tourism sector. All because pilots, who are already handsomely paid, want more and can’t employ a fraction of the patience that our taxpayers, partners, suppliers and others have employed for months as we try to turnaround this business.
The pilots want more, not at a time when the airline is thriving but at a time when we can expect no more help from the EU and in the middle of the most sensitive talks with our potential strategic partner.
What we should be doing right now is teaming up to get the best possible deal for our airline. We should be doing all we can to put our best foot forward. We should be trying to give the strategic partner the confidence it needs to finalise discussions.
We should be helping our colleagues understand that difficult decisions have to be made. We shouldn’t be making it even more difficult to justify these difficult decisions.
I am hopeful that this can still happen. I am hopeful that the pilots will see reason and come back to the negotiation table with a better sense of cooperation and teamwork.
What we have together is too small to keep dividing. Let us work together to build a bigger pie. If we do this, we will all benefit in the long run.
Maria Micallef is chairwoman of Air Malta.