Government, PIA unions talks deadlocked

Talks between the Pakistani government and unions representing striking staff at the country’s flag-carrier airline ended in deadlock Wednesday.

Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) pilots, crew and ground staff downed tools on Monday morning, demanding it scrap a proposed codeshare agreement with Turkish Airlines, sack its managing director and reinstate colleagues put on leave.

The first attempt to negotiate a solution ended after two hours at Islamabad airport.

“The talks have failed, there is a complete deadlock,” union committee leader Suhail Baluch told reporters. “The strike will continue until the government agreed to our demands.”

Khurshid Shah, the head of the government negotiating team, said the talks had been “adjourned” but did not give any timeframe for their resumption.

He denied that the ailing state carrier had signed a deal with Turkish Airlines under which unions say PIA would surrender lucrative routes to Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and US destinations New York and Chicago.

“I have told them there is no such agreement,” Shah said.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has called for a negotiated settlement “in the larger interest” of the national carrier, which last year asked the government to write off losses of $1.7 billion to save it from bankruptcy.

PIA managing director Aijaz Haroon, who is considered close to President Asif Ali Zardari but faces mounting calls to resign, told AFP that the management was working to restore flight operations as soon as possible.

The strike has cost PIA $3 million, with company officials saying at least 30 flights had been cancelled, including journeys to Britain, the Middle East, Europe and Asia.

Airline spokesman Mashhood Tajwar said about 5,000 travellers had been affected.

Dozens of PIA staff blocked a road outside Islamabad airport on Wednesday, causing traffic mayhem and shouting “even a dog would be insulted to be called MD (managing director) PIA” and denouncing the Turkish Airlines proposals.

Passengers who turned up at the airport were left standing around complaining about the disruption.

“I’ve been waiting here for the last four hours. PIA people say the flight is okay, but the security people aren’t allowing us to proceed to check-in,” Gulfraz Majeed, a 52-year-old en route to the north of England, told AFP.

“Once I reach Britain, I’m going to sue PIA and demand compensation. They’re bound to give us a hotel and alternate flight, but they haven’t bothered to offer us a single cup of tea,” Majeed said.