KARACHI: In a bid to disperse protesting Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) employees at Jinnah Terminal, security personnel resorted to baton-charging and using rubber bullets, water cannons and tear gas shells on Tuesday, as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called for implementation of the Essential Services Act.
Two protesters died after sustaining bullet wounds. Rangers and police deny "handling protesters violently" and firing at the site of the clash.
Pakistan Airlines Cabin Crew Association President and JAC spokesman Nasrullah Khan earlier told Dawn.com that the strike would proceed as the government had not accepted the body's four-point agenda.
A heavy contingent of Rangers and police personnel were deployed at the site to prevent protesters from entering the cargo gate and moving onto Jinnah Avenue, DawnNews reported.
Television footage showed security personnel fire tear gas shells and water cannons at protesters as they attempted to force their way into the cargo gate.
An injured protester Inayat Raza, who sustained a bullet wound in his chest during the protest, succumbed to his injuries at a private hospital. Raza was a member of PIA's engineering department.
Another injured person, Saleem, who also sustained bullet wounds died at the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Complex (JPMC), spokesman Dr Seemi Jamali confirmed. She said at least ten injured people were admitted to JPMC, two of whom were critical.
Deputy Inspector General East Kamran Fazal said bullet casings were collected to ascertain who opened fire on the protesters. He claimed the bullets were not fired by policemen. "We instructed our personnel not to handle the protesters violently. We are trying to find out who initiated the clash," he said.
"No Rangers personnel has fired to control the protest at Jinnah Terminal today," Rangers Public Relations Officer said in an official statement.
At least three other people, including a DawnNews cameraman Shafiq Dilshad, were injured during the protest as security officials also dispersed journalists and media personnel covering the incident. Dilshad's condition is said to be stable.
An Express News cameraman Agha Rafiq was also injured in the clash, while a business reporter of The Express Tribune was baton-charged.
PIA employee's four-point agenda:
- Government should immediately take back the bill passed on January 21 converting the national flag carrier into a public limited company.
- PIA's employees be provided a chance to reform the airline. If the employees fail to do so, the government will have the freedom to do whatever it finds suitable.
- Privatisation, in any form, whether it is in form of a strategic partner or selling of 36 per cent or 1pc of the organisation's shares, is not acceptable to the employees.
- Government should immediately review the aviation policy and form a committee for this purpose comprising members from PIA employees' JAC along with PIA experts Khursheed Anwar, Kamran Hasan and Salahuddin.
PIA spokesperson Daniyal Gilani told DawnNews that PIA management had asked protesting employees to come to the negotiating table but the union did not pay heed. He said the government was taking action in accordance with the law to deal with the situation, and that flight operations had not been affected.
Protests by PIA employees also erupted in Multan and Peshawar in solidarity with the treatment meted out to their colleagues in Karachi.
Imran Khan announces countrywide protests on Feb 6
Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan on Tuesday afternoon said his party will hold country-wide protests against the privatisation of PIA and the killing of two protesting employees outside the Karachi airport.
Khan criticised the government for what he called "expansive" development projects such as the Orange Line, and for not slashing oil and diesel prices in line with the international price slump.
Flight operations 'continue as scheduled'
Civil Aviation officials earlier said that flight operations would continue "as scheduled", but passengers are advised to call the airport ahead of time and confirm the status of their flights.
As the clash between protesting PIA employees and law enforcement personnel continues, the status of a number of flights at Karachi's Jinnah International Airport remains unclear.
While the JAC of PIA employees early on Monday said workers would strike starting 7am on Tuesday, flight data at Karachi's Jinnah International Airport (JIA), Islamabad's Benazir Bhutto International Airport (BBIA) and Lahore's Allama Iqbal International Airport (AIIA) showed all PIA flights from 7am-9am have departed, and that only two flights ─ PK-313 (Lahore to Karachi) and PK-314 (Karachi to Lahore) ─ were cancelled. A total of 10 PIA flights departed on time from all three airports between 7am-9am.
Flight operations at Karachi's Jinnah International Airport (JIA), Islamabad's Benazir Bhutto International Airport (BBIA) and Lahore's Allama Iqbal International Airport (AIIA) are running and are expected to continue as scheduled, Civil Aviation officials had said.
"All the flights this morning left on time," a JIA official said.
An official at BBIA said flight operations were continuing as scheduled and would not be affected even later in the day. Television footage showed a heavy contingent of police deployed at BBIA for added security.
An official at AlIA said check-in was open for flights and "all flights so far had run on time".
Captain Sohail Baloch, convener of the PIA employees committee, had earlier told reporters that a four-point agenda had been presented to the government by the body. Failure on part of the government to fulfill these demands, he said, would result in suspension of flight operations.
Nawaz calls for implementation of Essential Services Act
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif during a high-level meeting on Tuesday instructed implementation of the Essential Services Act.
National institutions will not be used for political motives, he said, adding that steps are being taken to turn the national flag carrier into a profitable organisation.
He advised the interior ministry to deal with major strikes regarding the issue and said PIA operations must not come to a halt.
Federal Information Minister Pervez Rashid, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif and Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Aviation Shujaat Azim attended the meeting.
Nawaz invokes Essential Services Act
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Monday enforced the Essential Services (Maintenance) Act 1952 for six months, barring protesting members of the Pakistan International Airlines from participating in any union activity.
The law essentially restricts union activity in state-administered sectors, including railways, postal services, telephone and affiliated services, and airports and seaports.
Earlier on Friday, PML-N Senator Mushahidullah Khan had announced that the government had postponed the privatisation of the national flag carrier for six months and requested the protesting workers to end their strike.
Mushahidullah had asked the joint action committee of PIA employees to withdraw its decision of the strike and resume flight operations, otherwise the government would use its authority and impose the Essential Services Act, if PIA employees did not call off their strike.
The Act was also invoked by the government in January 2013 during the doctors' strike for better wages and regularisation, resulting in the sacking of young doctors for participating in a strike.
'Enemies of PIA and Pakistan'
Speaking to reporters after the enforcement of the Act, Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid on Monday said those continuing the strike would be treated as enemies of PIA and Pakistan and they will end up losing their jobs.”
Rashid said the government had made alternate arrangements of pilots and engineering staff to ensure that operations continue smoothly. He said PM Nawaz had made clear that no PIA employee would be laid off during privatisation and reiterated that the government would not tolerate strikes.
During a pilots' strike last year PIA Chairman Nasser Jaffer had formulated a ‘plan B’ to run the flight operations without interruption under which new pilots were to be inducted on contract basis while Pakistan Navy’s aviators were to be called in for assistance.
Privatisation of PIA
The National Assembly on January 21 witnessed the passage of six bills, including one to convert the national flag carrier into a public limited company.
Under the bill, Pakistan International Airlines Corporation (PIAC) is to be converted into a public limited company as Pakistan International Airlines Company Limited (PIACL).
PIACL will get all the assets, liabilities, duties and obligations of PIAC. Similarly, PIACL would be entitled to the benefit of all notifications, licences, permissions, sanctions, authorisations, concessions, decrees, international air service authorisations, agreements, orders and benefits issued or granted in favour of PIAC.
─ Additional reporting by Irfan Haider.