All domestic and international flights of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) were cancelled on Wednesday as the national airline’s employees’ strike against privatization entered a second day.
“All PIA flights have been suspended indefinitely,” an airport official told The Express Tribune. PIA representatives at Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport, Islamabad’s Benazir Bhutto International Airport, Lahore’s Allama Iqbal International Airport and Peshawar’s Bacha Khan International Airport confirmed that all domestic and international flights scheduled for today were cancelled.
PIA employees resumed their protest, which came as the federal government invoked the Essential Services (Maintenance) Act, 1952, in the PIA for six months, outside major airports across the country.
A standoff between the government and the national airline’s employees turned deadly on Tuesday after three protesters were killed by ‘mysterious’ gunshots during a violent protest at Karachi airport, bringing air traffic across the country to near standstill.
A chain of events saw PIA Chairman Nasser Jaffer resigning from his post, taking full responsibility for the brute use of force against the protesters in Karachi. Sensing the predicament of air travellers, the Civil Aviation Authority has requested a private airline company, Air Blue, to commence special flights from Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad.
At a standstill
As the news of the protest spread on Tuesday, the Pakistan Airlines Pilots Association (Palpa) told its members not to proceed to any airport in the country. More than 35 domestic and international flights had been cancelled by the evening.
Pilots, cabin crew and flight dispatchers, who had earlier reported to work, started walking away. Officials fear the Engineering Department, which besides aircraft overhauls is responsible for checking planes before every flight, can technically bring the airline to its knees.
Unlike previous showdowns, the government tried to act smart this time and invoked the Essential Services (Maintenance) Act to outlaw union activity.
The strategy worked as hardly any flight was cancelled until 11am when around 1,000 PIA employees started the march playing on a truck-mounted megaphone a provocative song, “Tere Baap Ki Nahi Hai PIA”.
PM warns protesting PIA workers
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif believes that some political parties are backing the national airline’s strike, causing losses of Rs100 million per day.
The premier told the media on Tuesday that the Essential Services (Maintenance) Act was extended to the Pakistan International Airlines to improve the performance of the national flag carrier.
However, politicking is underway in the PIA, he added. “And it is going on with the backing of some political parties. Should we not check it and improve the situation?”
PM Nawaz said passengers face hardships due to the airline’s poor service and the poor condition of its fleet. “Should we ignore it?” he asked, and then responded himself: “It will not happen at all!”
He said the protesting employees would face action, and warned them of termination from service and a year in prison under the essential services act. “Any concession to such elements would be unfair to the country.”
The premier, however, added that the PIA employees who were not part of the protest campaign would be rewarded.
Asked law enforcers not to baton-charge the protesters: Sindh chief minister
Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah has said he had asked the law enforcers to refrain from baton-charging the protesting employees of PIA.
“I asked them to halt the baton charge so that I could speak to the protesting workers,” Shah said while speaking at the Sindh Assembly on Wednesday.
Calling the deceased workers martyrs, Shah said the government would give Rs2 million to the family of the workers killed during the protests.
Refuting any blame on the PPP government for the tragic death of PIA workers, the chief minister said his party was for poor and labourers.
“PPP’s programme is for the poor masses. Asif Zardari rehired 60,000 workers laid off in 2008. Credit for all pro-labour reforms goes to the PPP and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.”
PIA arranges four Boeing 747 to bring back stranded Umrah pilgrims
The national airline has arranged four Boeing 747 jumbo aircraft to bring back 2,000 stranded Umrah pilgrims from Jeddah, Saudia Arabia.
According to the PIA spokesperson, arrangements with Saudi Airlines have been finalised in this regard, and the planes would fly on February 5 to bring the stranded passengers back to Karachi.
The planes would also carry pilgrims to Saudi Arabia on its way back due to the ongoing strike.
Stranded passengers had confirmed PIA tickets, and were provided hotel accommodation by the airline at Jeddah and other cities.
For its back-up plan in prevalent situation, PIA is also in final stages of negotiations with Etihad Airways and Turkish Airlines to facilitate passengers going to and coming from Europe, America and Canada, the spokesperson added.
Muhammad Zubair invites protesting PIA workers for negotiations
Minister of State for Privatisation Muhammad Zubair has invited the protesting employees of the national flag carrier to hold negotiations for finding means to revive PIA, Radio Pakistan reported.
Addressing a news conference in Islamabad, Zubair said the prime minister had assured no employee would lose his job, adding the process of privatisation would be completely transparent.
PML-N leader Talal Chaudhry said the opposition parties were putting the blame of workers’ killings on the federal government.
The incident occurred on the road for which the Sindh government was responsible, he added.