WEB DESK: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s decision to impose Pakistan Essential Services (Maintenance) Act 1952 on the Pakistan International Airlines Corporation for six months makes the ongoing strike against its proposed privatisation by the corporation’s staff illegal and gives the government the power to arrest the striking workers. Pervez Rashid, the Minister for Information was selected by the government to publicly declare that the government would not hesitate to implement the Act and those workers who continue to strike would risk being terminated.
Business Recorder fully supports the government decision to impose the Act as the services of a national airline can and do qualify as essential services and any cessation of flight operations would have seriously inconvenienced passengers both within and outside the country. In this context one would defend the pilots’ association’s decision to continue flight operations even though the strikers had threatened that flight operations on Tuesday (yesterday) would cease completely if their demands are not met.
The right to strike is inherent in democratic countries; however, negotiations must be seen to be based on realistic demands which appeared to be lacking in the context of the protesters. To simply state that the government should abandon its privatisation programme, the strikers’ demand, given some extremely disturbing prevalent factors with major negative implications on the operating profits of the company is not going to cut any ice with the government or indeed the general public. These major prevalent factors include nepotism in senior appointments, and it is distressing that the incumbent government’s senior appointments have also been successfully challenged in the courts as they were made without following due procedure, no visible improvement in the airline operations in spite of protestations to the contrary with delays becoming the norm, as well as overstaffing by the airline management in junior appointments based on political connections. In short, there is a need for the striking staff to formulate some realistic demands that are likely to be considered by the government.
There is also talk of successive Pakistani governments giving the bulk of the country’s revenue passenger market of almost 12 to 13 million to Gulf airlines which accounts for these airlines at present having 60 percent of the market share as opposed to PIA’s 40 percent. And to favour airline ticket agents PIA’s online sales (relatively cheaper), are only 1 percent of total tickets sold while Emirates sells 70 percent of its tickets online. In other words, a lot has to be done to improve the airline and given the endemic nepotism in all our state institutions with PIA reflecting the norm, privatisation does appear to be the way forward.
A week ago Mushahidullah, a senior PML-N leader, had held a press conference in which he offered the strikers a way out: deferment of privatisation for six months. This period could have been used by the strikers and the government to come to some understanding with regard to PIA’s future operations and could have formed the basis of bargaining by the striking staff.
The striking staff must accept that the company cannot run as is. Massive bailout packages from the taxpayers money are no longer financially sustainable – for the government or indeed for the PIA. While the government is complicit in the losses given its selection of the board of directors who continue to rubberstamp management decisions and an inexperienced Managing Director appointed by the Sharif administration yet these surely must be the bargaining chips rather than threatening complete closure of all operations.
Source: Business Recorder