After scoring a victory against the unions of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), the government on Wednesday refused to say if it was willing to back out of its intention to sell minority stake in the cash-strapped national flag carrier.
A delegation of unions led by the Joint Action Committee of PIA Employees (JACPIAE) Chairman Sohail Baloch met Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif in a hyped-up meeting but left without receiving any firm assurances, officials said.
The most the unions had to say after the three-hour long meeting was that the final decision rests with the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. “Hopefully we would hear some good news in a day or two,” Baloch told journalists in Lahore.
JACPIAE called off its strike on Tuesday after eight days, which saw cancellation of hundreds of flights. But government has not publicly indicated that it was agreeing to unions’ key demand of rolling back the privatisation plan.
At the same time PIA management had issued show cause notices to hundreds of employees who took part in the strike. “We are in touch with our lawyer,” said an employee, who has also received a notice. “I don’t think this would become any serious issue for us.”
Union leaders say they have prepared a presentation for government that suggests ways to restructure financial losses of the airline.
During the meeting with Shahbaz Sharif, the union leaders said that there was fear among employees that they would face similar difficulties as workers of Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL).
“The JAC delegation demanded that the PIA’s privatisation be delayed for a year. The CM, however, said he had no authority to give any commitment in this regard. He took his notes, listened to the grievances of the JAC members and assured to pass them on to the PM,” an official present in the meeting told The Express Tribune.
Senate demands probe into PIA privatisation
Meanwhile, opposition parties in the Senate on Wednesday grilled the government’s handling of the PIA protesters and demanded a probe into motives behind the airline’s privatisation.
All the opposition parties opposed the privatisation move and demanded a judicial inquiry into the February 2 incident in which two of PIA workers were killed by mysterious gunshots while they were protesting at the Karachi’s international airport.
They also demanded the government to take parliament into confidence on the issue instead of taking ‘solo flight’.
The PkMAP opposed privatisation of any national asset whereas the PTI said government should not sell the PIA in such a shabby condition with Rs278 billion net negative equity.
During the debate, Opposition Leader Aitzaz Ahsan said the government should also announce a bailout package for the PIA as it was doling out billions of rupees on projects like Metro bus and had paid Rs480 billion to power sector without an audit.
Hitting hard at the government and the prime minister, he said, “Mian sahib is not selling the PIA, he is actually buying it.” A large number of senators accused the government of wrongdoing and quoted the example of MCB’s privatisation at a throwaway price.
PIA announces reduction in fares
Meanwhile, PIA announced that fares for Karachi-Lahore and Karachi-Islamabad sectors have been slashed. Umrah passengers have also been offered discount.
The airline has installed crusher machines at Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad airports to dispose of the disposable items used by passengers during flights.
The machines were installed to address complaints that some PIA employees and contractors were reusing the disposable items such as plates, glasses and spoons to mint money.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 11th, 2016.