Trade Dispute between Air Malta plc vs Association of Airline Operations Controllers and General Workers Union

This unprecedented decision taken by the Industrial Tribunal on Tuesday 4th April 2017 raises some eyebrows. The parties involved were Air Malta Plc (AM), the Association of Airline Operations Controllers (AAOC) represented by Dr Ian Spiteri Bailey and the General Workers Union (GWU). The main issue in this dispute was whether the newly registered Union AAOC should be considered as a separate collective bargaining unit.

Air Malta plc declared the existence of an industrial dispute after conflicts arose between the AAOC and GWU. Both AAOC and GWU demanded the sole exclusive recognition of the Airline’s Operations Controllers. The AAOC insists that all Operations Controllers were its own members. GWU contended that Air Malta’s failed to take the issue to conciliation before proceeding before the Industrial Tribunal.

The parties agreed that a preliminary decision was be given by the Tribunal with respect to the GWU’s plea as to whether the conciliation stage is mandatory or otherwise. The Tribunal concluded that even though the conciliation stage is not obligatory by law, should Tribunal’s not uphold such a plea as raised by the GWU, then it would be sending the wrong message that conciliation is irrelevant and unnecessary.

Legal and Industrial Relations experts are of the opinion that this Tribunal award is completely erroneous and mistaken. It is axiomatic that the law does not obligate parties involved in an industrial dispute to resort to conciliation. By virtue of article 69(1) of the Employment and Industrial Relations Act (EIRA), it is clearly expressed that where a trade dispute exists or is apprehended, the parties to the dispute may agree to refer the dispute to a conciliator.

Thus, a conundrum lies within the Tribunal’s considerations as, whilst it affirms that conciliation is not mandatory, (and it does this for a number of times), it concluded by giving orders to the parties to go to conciliation. That is the first contradiction in terms of this award.

Furthermore, from all the three parties, only one party desired the referral of this dispute to a conciliator. Apart from the fact that this is irrelevant, as if only one parties refuses conciliation, then no conciliation proceedings are to be held, but the Tribunal having considered that 2 of 3 parties declined conciliation, still proceeded to accord the wish of that one single party. Hence, even if the issue of how many parties wished to go to conciliation is irrelevant, the Tribunal arrived at the illogical conclusion the minority wins. This is a second contradiction.

A third and last contradiction in this flawed and wrong award relates to the fact that, whilst the Tribunal referred the dispute to conciliation, precisely because it acknowledged that the parties are in dispute, this Industrial Tribunal’s decision concluded its award by declaring the “dispute closed”.

One can only but state that this is a mess of a decision.

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