Last-ditch effort to prevent Feb 2 PIA strike

Until now the unions have only forced the back office work to suspend, but flight operations have not been disrupted

A view of empty PIA Booking Office in Quetta during the protest against privatisation of the airlines. PHOTO: INP

ISLAMABAD/ KARACHI: As protests against the PIA’s privatisation continued across the country for the second consecutive day on Wednesday, the government has convened a meeting of the national airlines’ union leaders on Friday (tomorrow) in a last-ditch effort to convince them to call off their February 2 strike.

Meanwhile, Opposition leader in the National Assembly Khursheed Shah has criticised the government over privatisation of the Pakistan International Airlines, urging the administration to bail out the national flag-carrier instead of selling it out.

PIA privatisation: Unions to shut offices across country from tomorrow

Until now the unions have only forced the back office work to suspend, but flight operations have not been disrupted. With the rhetoric of the union leaders reaching a high pitch, however, the airline management feels it is time to take the threat seriously.

“It’s a genuine threat, and we are not taking it lightly,” said PIA Chairman Nasser Jaffer. “That’s why I have extended an invitation for meeting on behalf of the aviation secretary.”

An attempt to pacify the unions did not work on Tuesday, he admitted. “We are willing to listen to them, going as far as offering two hours every week where both sides can put forward suggestions for the betterment of the PIA. But the government will not be dictated.”

Besides calling for a stop to the privatisation process, the unions also want a say in managing the day-to-day operations of the airline.

Jaffer insists that passengers have not panicked from the strike call and there were no reports of significant seat cancellations.

But other officials claim that bookings have started to slump as travel agents have been advising passengers to seek alternatives in case the strike happens. PIA’s former marketing director Irshad Ghani, who was at the helm of affairs when the last major strike occurred in 2011, says immediate traffic remains unaffected because seats are sold well in advance, but a poor public perception leaves a lasting impact. “Obviously it is devastating from sales’ point of view, because customers are unsure if the flights will take off.”

No end in sight to PIA pilots’ strike

The Joint Action Committee of PIA Employees (JACPIAE), a group of all the unions, has closed the offices across the country, except the sales counters at airports and the departments linked to flight operations.

JACPIAE spokesperson Nasrullah Khan warns that if the government did not take the unions seriously, then extreme measures will be taken for making the strike successful.

The protesters’ demands include withdrawal of the bill changing the PIA’s status, revision of the aviation policy, involvement of the unions in decision-making and complete rollback of the privatisation plan.

Bail it out

Last week, the government had passed the privatisation bill of the airline in the lower house of parliament. It would now be presented in the upper house.

“The government was in such haste that it did not wait even for a day, and passed the bill when the opposition had walked out,” Khursheed Shah told the media in his chamber at the NA.

Shah said Climate Change Minister Zahid Hamid had assured him that the bill would not be passed in that session, but it happened.

PIA sell-off ordinance converted into bill

He suggested that the PIA should be bailed out like other governments across the globe have done in the past with their national flag-carriers.

Between 2001 and 2011 some 150 airlines were bailed out by different governments around the world, he said. “Why can’t the government do that, [especially] when the price of oil is at its lowest?”

They have, instead, hired officials on salaries running into millions, said Shah. “PIA’s chief legal officer Waseem Bari was hired on a salary of Rs1.8 million. Lawyers of the PIA’s Deal 320 case were paid Rs9 million.”

Criticising the government’s recent projects, the opposition leader asked what it had done for the people. “Would the government like to tell us what they have done for food security and population control? Why is infrastructure development more important than human development?”

Published in The Express Tribune, January 28th, 2016.


Sam | 5 years ago | Reply No need to save the corrupt. They can all go home and PIA can be made profitable within a week.
Avatar | 5 years ago | Reply In the larger interest of the country, PIA should be privatised. The nation is already benefitting from the deregulation and privatisation took place in banking and telecom sectors (remembered power of unions in banks). Compared today's National Bank, which is still under government controlled, with HBL, MCB Allied Bank and UBL and you will get the answer that whether PIA should be privatised or not. Military and Civil governments in past had tried to make PIA self sustainable but failed to do so, mainly due to the reason that it is not government's job to run airline. PIA is no longer a going concern as per any criteria and has become a blackhole. Look at Pakistan Steel Mill, which was about to privatise few years ago, and now where it is standing. Employees are not getting their salaries and retirement funds. It is inevitable!
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