Instead of initiating talks with the striking Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) workers, the government has decided to launch a new airline within four months, The Express Tribune has learnt.
According to well-placed sources, the government has, in principle, decided to start a new airline on the basis of a wet lease with minimum staff.
“The company will be raised within 90 days to 120 days. The new airline will operate planes on basis of wet lease and services of the crew, staff and other human resources will be acquired through outside sources,” said an official privy to the development.
He said the total strength of the company will be from 500 to 600 employees. All process of ticketing, buying and collection, etc., will be outsourced. The new airline will cover all routes inside and outside the country.
The government will run the new company like an autonomous corporation and look after its management while in practice it will be like a private company. The new airline will be parallel to the PIA and will operate separately. Officials said all concerned quarters of the country have not only given a go-ahead to the government’s idea but have also vowed their support in making it successful.
No talks with PIA strikers
Meanwhile, the federal government has decided not to hold talks with the strikers, who have blocked PIA’s operations, and has formed a four-member panel to start action against strikers under the Pakistan Essential Services (Maintenance) Act 1952.
The act bars the protesting PIA members from participating in any union activity and says that: “Any person found guilty of an offence under this act shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year and shall also be liable to a fine”.
According to a notification issued on Thursday ,“In exercise of the powers conferred under section (7),(3) of Pakistan Essential Services (Maintenance) Act 1952, the federal government is pleased to authorise following persons for lodging complaints against the [PIA] employees accused of offences under the act ibid.
The panel includes Aviation Division’s Senior Joint Secretary Captain (retd) Ahmad Latif, the PIA’s Director HR and Coordination in Karachi Rashid Ahmad and Deputy General Manager HR in Lahore Musa Khan and Deputy General Manager HR Peshawar Mubarak Hayat.
However, Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid has said the government is doing everything possible to ensure that employees returned to work. Speaking to the media in Lahore, he said under the Essential Services Act PIA employees could not go on strike.
“Because of this, the call for a strike itself is illegal,” he said. Rashid claimed that the initial call for a strike by the unions had failed since PIA operations had continued. “The PIA employees were still in their offices and flights were running smoothly before the incident on Tuesday,” he said.
He said since their call had failed they had decided to use their muscle and forcefully closed offices.
He also expressed sorrow over the deaths of the employees. “The Sindh police and other law enforcing agencies are working to catch the culprits,” he said. The minister said the prime minister had assured all employees that they would not lose their jobs as a result of privatisation.
“They should understand this and come back to work,” he said.
Contracts with other airlines
Meanwhile, to facilitate the customers affected by the strike, the PIA management has also finalised arrangements with Air Blue to accept PIA’s confirmed ticket-holding passengers for flights to Karachi, Islamabad, Lahore, Dubai, Muscat, Jeddah and Riyadh.
The management has also finalised arrangements with Shaheen Air to accept PIA’s confirmed ticket passengers on domestic flights and with Etihad Airways to enable international passengers to travel through Etihad after endorsement from PIA’s local office.
The passengers may contact PIA’s service counters at airports to convert their tickets to these private airlines. Passengers having PIA’s confirmed tickets to any international destination can also contact PIA for conversion of their tickets. They will also be adjusted in different international airlines.
Solidarity with PIA workers
Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on Thursday condemned the midnight raids and arrests of Peoples Unity leaders of PIA and asked the government to ‘desist from bloodshed’ and ‘enforced disappearances’ of the PIA employees.
“Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his ministers are bent upon targeting the peaceful protesters to snatch the public assets and distribute the same among his cronies,” Bilawal said.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan also showed his party’s solidarity with the PIA protestors outside Islamabad’s Benazir Bhutto International Airport and said the government needed to launch action against inflation and corruption rather than curbing the protests by the PIA workers.
“The PTI stands with the protesting PIA workers,” Imran said, while criticising the government’s privatisation policy.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 5th, 2016.