Air Malta workers will not be discarded, Tourism Minister Edward Zammit Lewis says, though getting the green light from Brussels for early retirement schemes is not a foregone conclusion.
The Tourism Minister tells Kurt Sansone an agreement reached with the four Air Malta unions last August to offer alternative jobs and early retirement will be honoured.
In a Times Talk interview, he acknowledges the national airline requires more reforms to become commercially viable and these include a further reduction in the workforce.
However, Dr Zammit Lewis does not say how many workers will be shed, insisting this also depends on talks with a strategic partner that could grow the airline with new investment.
He insists the government has not shunned its responsibility to tackle the challenges Air Malta still faces despite a five-year restructuring programme that failed to turn the company back into black.
“We looked workers in the eye and told them that in some sectors [of the airline] there were too many employees,” Dr Zammit Lewis says.
Asked whether the government will manage to convince the European Commission that the prospective early retirement schemes were not State aid, Dr Zammit Lewis says nothing is a given.
“When the restructuring plan was being discussed five years ago nobody knew whether the European Commission would give the go-ahead… we will go to the Commission to discuss [our plans] and try to convince,” he says.
On the botched Alitalia deal, he says the experience gained from the talks is invaluable.
While dismissing suggestions the discussions with the ailing Italian airline were a waste of time, Dr Zammit Lewis says the government is still committed to find a strategic partner for Air Malta.
The experience gained from the Alitalia talks is being used in fresh negotiations with other airlines interested in becoming strategic partners, he adds. However, the minister does not lift the lid on the names of the companies with which discussions are taking place.
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