Stick and carrot fails to impress PIA protesters

| Govt defers privatisation plan for six months | Warns of declaring airline ‘part of essential services’ if strike not ended | Union leader vows to continue protest

ISLAMABAD - The federal government yesterday made a ‘failed’ effort to make the protesting PIA employees end their strike by announcing to put its privatisation plan on hold for six months.
A high level huddle chaired by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has decided that government will not engage for six months a strategic partner to steer out the national flag carrier, PIA spokesperson said in a statement on Friday.
The statement read that Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) should work hard during this period to improve its performance.
The meeting reiterated government decision that none of PIA’s employees would be laid off nor would they lose their financial benefits and would continue to have job security.
The meeting also decided that the government would not be blackmailed by PIA unions and associations and if their call of strike is not taken back, PIA would be declared part of essential services.
The statement further said that government expects the union leaders to support PIA management in reviving the national flag carrier so that the good work done during the last two and a half years is taken forward.
But the protesting employees rejected the government decision and decided to continue their strike until all their demands were accepted.
“We have decided to continue our protest, as the government seems hell bent to privatise profit earning PIA”, a PIA union leader told The Nation.
The meeting chaired by the PM observed that because of the strike by PIA employees, the people of Pakistan are suffering. In addition to huge financial losses, the prevailing situation is bringing a bad name to the country and damaging PIA reputation which cannot be tolerated.
The move came after the government failed to push its plans through the parliament as the opposition parties collectively opposed them and eventually succeeded in getting the controversial Presidential Ordinance on PIA privatisation scarped.
Main opposition party in the parliament, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) led the anti-PIA privatisation campaign and blasted the government on its initiative to privatise a “profit earning” public organisation and boycotted the proceedings of the National Assembly.
Leader of Opposition in National Assembly and senior PPP leader Syed Khurshid Shah censured the government for selling the national assets in order to fulfil its commitments with international donor agencies, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The development also followed a biting protest by the PIA employees despite Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s public explanation that no PIA employee will be laid off as a result of the privatisation.
To pacify the situation the powerful Finance Minister Senator Ishaq Dar stated that the government was seeking a strategic partner by selling 26 percent shares of the national flag carrier which compounded the crisis as the protesting employees took the statement as a pinch of salt and termed it a ‘sinister move’.
They called off their protest after the prime minister announced a committee to help defuse the situation by engaging the employees through talks. But, the move fizzled out leaving the government to seek resolution of the problem through the parliament.
The government plans to shed 26 percent PIA shares and auction some of the international routes to make PIA financially sound. The national airline has been running on subsidy as it has to discharge the financial liability of billions of rupees loans that it acquired over the decades.
According to senior government officials, the privatisation plan envisages a fleet of 100 new aircraft from its current tonnage of 35 plus aircraft.
Senator Mushahidullah Khan from ruling PML-N, who also heads in-House Committee on PIA, told a news conference later in the evening that the government wants to revive PIA. He urged PIA employees to call-off their strike and solve issues on the negotiating table.
He said rights of PIA employees will be protected and their perks and privileges, salaries and gratuity will never be affected in the new plan for reviving the national flag carrier.
Senator Khan also warned that the government would go to any extent in protecting employees’ rights, but it would never accept any kind of blackmailing.