The 77-page proposal submitted by Palpa will cost PIA an additional Rs3.3 billion
Forty-eight hours into the unannounced strike that delayed nearly three dozen flights, Pakistan International Airlines’ (PIA) management on Friday asked its protesting pilots to either come to the negotiating table or be ready to face disciplinary action.
Using what is known as the go-by-the-book programme – a reference to the flying rules that can be used to call-in sick just hours before a flight –members of Pakistan Airlines’ Pilots Association (Palpa) are pushing for revision in their pay scale and other perks.
The confrontation, one of many that has pitted the cash-strapped airline’s management against pilots in recent years, has come at an awkward time: the airline is struggling to bring back Hajj pilgrims.
“I take complete responsibility for this debacle but please let’s not make our passengers suffer,” PIA Chairman Nasser Jaffer said at a news conference.
“Strikes happen in Air France and Lufthansa, too. Problem here is that pilots are not even acknowledging it. But 14 pilots calling in sick at the same time is unusual,” he added.
Pilots are in negotiations with the management to revise a working agreement that guides their employment terms and conditions. The 77-page proposal submitted by Palpa will cost PIA an additional Rs3.3 billion — if it is implemented at all.
While the management is handicapped to take any severe step because of the ‘norms’, the airline will use every regulatory tool to deal with pilots if the situation persisted, Jaffer said. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has already suspended two pilots for violating safety rules.
Palpa started agitation a couple of weeks back through press statements but without sharing specific grievances. But the two issues, which have been stressed upon relate to Director Flight Operations Captain Salman Azhar and hiring pilots, who are over 60 years of age.
Palpa contests Azhar’s office saying he is on LPR (Leave Preparatory to Retirement). “How does that make any sense? Aren’t some of the pilots on LPR and still flying planes? So why can’t management have him (Azhar)?” Jaffer asked.
Pilots, especially the senior ones, have resisted any move to raise retirement age beyond 60 years, something that airlines around the worlds have done to cut costs.
The national air carrier says it spends millions of rupees training pilots, who after retirement go in to work in foreign carriers. In a bid to retain them, it has come up with a proposal to hire them back on contract.
Jaffer said the airline is in debt of Rs300 billion and a negative cash balance of Rs30 billion. “Somehow the government keeps on supporting the airline. It’s time we solve this problem.”
Pilots on their own
Palpa, which has remained by far the strongest union, has also alienated itself. At the news conference, the PIA chairman was accompanied by leaders of four unions including the biggest – CBA, the Collective Bargaining Agent.
CBA president Shamim Akmal said Palpa has gone rogue. “They didn’t consult us. They didn’t even bother to consider the consequences.” The CBA, which represents most of the lower-level employees, has been in talks for revising pay scale of its own members for 14 months now, he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 3rd, 2015.