At least eight flights of the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) were cancelled at the Allama Iqbal International Airport on Tuesday as the staff of the national flag carrier suspended airline operations to protest the killing of their colleagues at a protest camp in Karachi.
Most of the passengers affected by the suspension of operations were on their way to Saudi Arabia for performance of Umra.
A large contingent of police, Pakistan Rangers and the Airport Security Force was deployed in front of the airport all day but no untoward incident was reported.
All PIA workers including those manning customer service counters stopped work as the news of the deaths came in at around 3pm.
Witnesses said the passengers in the boarding area were told to return their boarding passes because no flights would take off on Tuesday. Arif Ali, who remained stranded in the boarding area for some time, said most passengers refused to return their passes and chanted slogans against the management. He said he waited for a while before he left the airport.
On Monday, the Joint Action Committee of PIA Workers had called a nationwide strike against the federal government’s plan to privatise the airline. Following the call, the government had suspended all trade union activities in the airlines for six months under the Essential Services Act. Airline operations in Lahore were running smoothly till around 3pm as only a handful of employees held a peaceful demonstration against the privatisation plan.
The union members said that the protesters were joined by scores of other workers on hearing the news of the deaths in Karachi.
“The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz has a track record of anti-labour activities. The government policies will lead to the devastation of the national airline. Poor workers will be the only ones to suffer,” said People’s Unity PIA Employees Union president Manzoor Chaudhary. He said work would remain suspended till the government reverses its decision to privatise the airline. “It won’t take long for the ongoing protest to turn into a movement now that the government has started spilling blood,” he said. Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign president Qamar Zaman Khan said the bureaucracy was responsible for the airline’s losses. He said the ruling party was privatising the airline just to benefit its allies among the big business. “The privatisation of state-owned enterprises will wreck the country’s economy and increase unemployment.
The sudden suspension of PIA operations left the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in a difficult situation. A CAA official said their attempts to encourage the PIA counter staff to serve its passengers were fruitless. “We then had to ensure that operations of other airlines were not affected due to the PIA protest,” he said.
PIA workers in several other cities across the province joined the strike and suspended airline operations. In Dera Ghazi Khan, the PIA workers protested in front of the airport and closed down all booking offices.
Workers in Multan staged a demonstration at the city terminal. Angry protesters removed the portraits of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from the airport and condemned the government for using force against peaceful protesters.
The demonstration was attended by members of the Air League and the Peoples Unity.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 3rd, 2016.