Protesting PIA employees lockdown HO over privatisation fears

KARACHI, PAKISTAN, DEC 21: Employees of Pakistan International Airline are protesting against privatization during a demonstration held at PIA headquarter in Karachi on Monday, December 21, 2015. (S.Imran Ali/PPI Images).

The head office of Pakistan International Airline (PIA) remained closed on Monday because of employees’ protest in front of the premises against the proposed privatization of the national airliner.

The protest also thwarted the first meeting of the board of directors of the newly-formed Pakistan International Airline Company Limited (PIACL) that was to be held at the head office on Monday.

Thousands of PIA employees gathered outside the head office and closed the main gate of the building, preventing even PIACL Chairman Nasser Jaffar from entering the premises.

Visibly perturbed by the employees’ protest, Jaffar told reporters later on Monday evening that he might step down from his position if the protests continued on Tuesday (today).

“I’m at a loss to understand why the employees union is making a mountain out of a molehill. No PIA employee is being laid off therefore the protests are illogical,” he said.

“The operations of the airline are not affected by the protests as operations staff is working as per routine,” said Capt Sohail Baloch, adding that the head office would remain closed on Tuesday (today) as well as the employees have decided to keep protesting against the proposed privatization of the flag carrier on a daily basis until the government reconsiders its decision.

Pakistan Unity Union’s Organising Secretary Amir Dar told Pakistan Today that they have no option but to protest as the government did not meet its promises.

“The prime minister had assured us that PIA will not be privatized but all steps taken by the government are heading towards the same direction – privatization,” he said. Dar said that the PIA employees unions have warned the government that they would go on a countrywide strike until their demand of restoring PIA’s status of “Corporation” was not met by the government.

“We also want formation of a judicial commission to investigate the entire matter,” he said, adding that the unions had previously brought the entire PIA operations on hold in 2011 when the government had entered into agreements with Turkish Airlines.

“We will repeat our strategy if the government does not accept our demands,” he added.

Meanwhile, several flights were delayed on Monday and passengers could not get their boarding passes at Faisalabad and Multan airports because of the PIA employees’ protests.

In Peshawar, the PIA staff wore black armbands during their protest at Bacha Khan Airport.

A PIA spokesman said in a statement that the protesting employees should not be concerned about their future in the newly-formed PIACL, saying their rights are fully protected in the new structure.

“In order to remove the reservations of PIA employees on the presidential ordinance and to propose steps for improving the performance of PIA, a committee has been constituted which shall submit its report within two weeks. Shujaat Azeem has excused himself from heading this committee,” he said.

He said that the new company formed under the ordinance shall be more powerful to take decisions and protect the interest of employees. Government’s control over the management will now be considerably reduced, he added.

The spokesman said that to give boost to PIACL’s operations government will look for strategic partners to jointly pool the resources and run the affairs of the company while retaining the majority shares. However the privatization of PIA is not being considered and neither will it be if PIA continues to show improvement, he said.

Any disruption in flight schedule will not only cause huge losses to the national airline and create inconvenience for travelers but also bring a bad name to the company, he added.

PIACL is the only airline in Pakistan who has 38 planes with around 22,000 employees and 440 pilots. Around 4,000 employees including pilots are deputed in different countries including USA, UK and UAE.

Although Finance Minister Senator Ishaq Dar on Sunday had sought to allay employees’ fears by stating that the government had no plans to privatise PIA, sources in the company say that the government is in contact with Qatar Airlines and another business group based in Abu Dhabi for handing over PIA operations with management control. However, the Pakistani government is yet to hear from either of the two parties, sources added.