Cloud of uncertainty hangs over future of PIA, employees

downloadThere has been much debate in recent months over the proposed privatisation of the national flag-carrier, the Pakistan International Airlines. The PIA employees staged protests in recent weeks and it resulted in casualties in Karachi too, when the security personnel resorted to violence at demonstrations. However, the PIA employees resumed duty and ended protests after being assured by authorities to resolve issues amicably.

Though the employees have rejoined duties, they are still concerned about their future and many fear losing jobs.

Shad Muhammad Shah, president of one of the workers’ union, People’s Unity, says that eight employees of the airlines in Peshawar had received show-cause notices for staging protests. He said negotiations with the government were underway and they were hoping that their grievances will be addressed.

About their next line of action, he said the joint action committee having representatives of various PIA employees’ unions like Air League, People’s Unity and others, was authorised to take decisions about any new line of action.

Rahat Iqbal, president of the Air League, said PIA was earning money as most passengers have to wait in order to get a seat on its flights.“The PIA is often short of space for the passengers. It is wrong to say that the PIA is not earning,” he added. He said they called off the protests as the negotiations with the management are underway.

Earlier, there were reports that the employees may be laid off through golden handshake but the management clarified through a press release on February 27 that there is no such proposal under consideration.

The PIA management has stopped giving free domestic and international tickets to many protesting employees in the wake of the protests.

However, the employees narrate another story with regards to their issues. An official of the airlines based in Peshawar told this correspondent on condition of anonymity that the PIA employees were underpaid.

“I have served PIA for more than 13 years and now I am getting Rs50,000 salary,” he said.

To a question about overstaffing in the PIA, he said successive governments had recruited staff through nepotism in the PIA. “Still it has little effect on the PIA’s revenue as the staff salaries aren’t high,” he argued.

Another employee, who also wished not to be named, said: “There is no canteen for us. We bring food in plastic bags from a far-off hotel.”

He added that the company had not given them uniforms for the last four years while the service cards have also expired and yet to be renewed.

Another senior officer of the airlines said that the ‘open sky’ policy implemented by the government in 1992 has caused losses to the PIA.

“This policy provided the foreign airlines with access to Pakistan and they started expanding their operations. As a result, the PIA suffered,” he added. He also added that a major reason behind PIA’s financial issues was the appointment of senior management officials by the successive rulers through nepotism and high salaries.

“The current managing director is a foreign national and is drawing a high salary in addition to other benefits,” he added.

“Flights to coastal areas like Panjgur, Turbat and Gilgit, Skardu and Chitral do not earn the PIA any profit, but the government has to run those PIA flights for public service,” stated Malik Taj from the PIA’s passenger and traffic handling department at the airport in Peshawar.

He said that being the national airline the PIA also offers discounts to various segments of the population like students, defence department and journalists.

That being said, some of the things are associated with the privatisation of the airline. For instance, the first is that if privatised, the airline is likely to lose the word “Pakistan”, as it will no longer remain “national”. Secondly, a private airline won’t like to fly to remote and financially unviable destinations where the PIA is currently flying as part of public service. And thirdly, the privatised airline is also likely to stop offering discounts to various segments of Pakistani population, like defence department, students, journalists, etc.

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