ISLAMABAD: Even as senior members of the ruling party defend their plans for the national flag carrier, the government seems in no mood to back down in the face of protesting Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) employees.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif accepted the resignation of PIA Chairman Nasser Jaffer. According to an official notification released by the PM Office, the aviation secretary will hold additional charge as PIA chairman for now.
Mr Sharif was chairing a meeting attended by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Petroleum Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Senator Mushahidullah Khan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Mehtab Ahmed Khan Abbasi.
Separately, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar also vowed to proceed with structural reforms within PIA, adding that strategic partners would be brought on board to turn loss-making entities such as the airline into profitable enterprises.
Chairman’s resignation accepted; meeting discusses possibility of forming new airline; passengers turned away by other airlines despite PIA assurances
Following up on its decision to invoke the Essential Services Maintenance (ESM) Act 1952, the interior ministry has authorised four officials — at the Aviation Division in Islamabad and at PIA’s offices in Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar — to formally lodge complaints against PIA employees who do not fall in line.
Aviation Division Senior Joint Secretary Ahmad Latif, PIA Karachi Director (HR) Rashid Ahmad, PIA Lahore Deputy General Manager (HR) Musa Khan, and PIA Peshawar Deputy GM (HR) Mubarak Hayat have been asked to hear complaints.
Sources in the PM Office told Dawn the government was very clear in its stance: the national airline cannot be run under the present circumstances and there must be structural changes in the way its operations are managed.
When asked, one of the PM’s close aides privy to Thursday’s meeting said, “There will be no going back, come what may.” Moreover, he said, all participants of the meeting were of the view that they would not be blackmailed by the PIA unions anymore.
“The union leaders have taken extreme measures, i.e. shutting down the national flag carrier for the first time in its history. This is the worst they could have done, and in doing so have embarrassed the government to the hilt. Now, the decision lies with us and we have decided not to hold talks on their terms,” another senior government source privy to the meeting told Dawn.
Talking about the proposal of launching a new state-run airline on corporate lines, he acknowledged that the idea had been discussed at the meeting. “But it was just a suggestion to end the blackmailing by the PIA union.”
When asked whether this would be practical, he said that nothing was impossible for the government as many businessmen were willing to invest in such a venture.
It is worth noting that Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, one of the ministers present in Thursday’s meeting, has ample experience running AirBlue.
Ishaq Dar presser
At a press conference in Dubai, Mr Dar said that even though there were reports that the airline’s privatisation may be rolled back, “our resolve is very clear; we will do everything and anything possible to bring structural changes in these entities... with better service delivery and move towards making them profitable”.
He said that before leaving for talks in Dubai, he had held consultations with the PIA unions and had asked them to also seek legal help. He said that the current government wanted to enhance PIA’s capacity, but certain elements were trying to foster unrest by spreading disinformation about PIA employees being sent home.
“There is no such plan. There are only two options to reduce losses; either by sending people home or increasing its business, and we plan to increase its business,” the finance minister said.
Mr Dar said the unfortunate events of the past three days would be examined in detail and an inquiry had already been ordered.
He said if the government was able to bring in a strategic partner who could add another 40 aircraft, the airline’s losses would be halved.
Mohammad Asghar adds: In an effort to facilitate passengers affected by the ongoing strike, PIA had made arrangements with AirBlue to accept confirmed PIA tickets from domestic and international passengers.
“PIA has finalised arrangements with AirBlue to accept confirmed passengers for flights to Karachi, Islamabad, Lahore, Dubai, Muscat, Jeddah and Riyadh,” a spokesperson told Dawn.
Arrangements have also been made with Shaheen Air, which will accept PIA confirmed tickets for domestic flights.
However, no domestic passengers were facilitated by private airlines on Thursday and those with confirmed tickets continued to be turned away by other carriers. Late on Thursday night, protesters gathered outside the terminal with their luggage to protest their maltreatment.
Published in Dawn, February 5th, 2016