KARACHI/RAWALPINDI: As suspension of the Pakistan International Airlines’ (PIA) flight operations entered the fourth day on Friday because of strike by employees against the airline’s proposed privatisation, there were signs of efforts to defuse the situation when talks between the government and leaders of the agitating workers began late in the night.

The talks were held after Minister of State/Chairman Privatisation Com­mission Mohammad Zubair landed in Karachi and invited the Joint Action Committee (JAC) of PIA employees to his DHA residence. Though both sides called the talks “meaningful”, the committee vowed to continue protest and keep flight operations suspended till a satisfactory agreement was reached with the government.

“We had a very good discussion tonight and we hope to continue that tomorrow [Saturday] as well,” Mr Zubair told reporters after the talks. “We have heard them [Joint Action Committee] and would look into their concerns and demands. Nothing is finalised yet, but there is no deadlock. We both agreed to move in a way that benefits the airline and its employees and hope to keep the same spirit tomorrow as well.”

But Captain Sohail Baloch of the Joint Action Committee said the flight operations would remain suspended, but agreed that the talks with the minister were positive and moving forward.

“It’s a good sign I think. I request that speculations should be avoided till we reach an agreement through talks. We would keep the flight operations suspended, but at the same time talks would continue to be held with the government. We have also demanded the recovery of four JAC missing leaders,” he said.

Meanwhile, the government managed to bring home pilgrims stranded in Saudi Arabia for a few days through a foreign airline.

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan is scheduled to arrive in Karachi on Saturday morning. He will meet the PIA workers and meet relatives of the deceased employees to offer condolence.

Talking to Dawn, Chakar Shah of the JAC said that a delegation of workers led by Capt Sohail Baloch had held a meeting with Sindh Rangers Director General Maj Gen Bilal Akber in connection with the killing of two employees and an investigation launched by the paramilitary force.

According to Mr Shah, the Rangers chief assured the workers that the inquiry being conducted by a senior official of the paramilitary force would be transparent and those found responsible would be brought to book.

He said the workers had expressed full confidence in the paramilitary force and its inquiry and assured the Rangers chief that they would extend all assistance and cooperation for early completion of the investigation.

Mr Shah said the workers continued their sit-in outside the PIA head office. He said efforts were also being made to register an FIR at the airport police station over the killing of two PIA employees.

About the pilgrims who were stranded in Saudi Arabia, a PIA spokesperson said two special aircraft of Saudi Airlines had brought over 700 pilgrims to Islamabad and Karachi on Friday noon and carried the same number of pilgrims on the return journey to Saudi Arabia in the evening.

Another four aircraft of Saudi Airlines have been arranged for flight operations between Pakistan and the kingdom till Feb 8.

The spokesperson said that all PIA tickets which could not be utilised during strike days would be refunded without any charges when normal operations resumed.

AIRPORT PASSES: In view of the strike, the Airport Security Force has cancelled entry passes of PIA employees at all airports of the country. The passes would be re-issued after the strike, in consultation with the PIA management, the spokesperson said.

In Rawalpindi, the protesting PIA employees closed one side of the road outside the airport and held a sit-in. They installed loudspeakers and their union’s flags.

The protesters were led by Peoples Unity of PIA Employees Union president Ramzan Laghari and general secretary Suhail Bukhtiyar, Air League of Employees Union (CBA) general secretary Zaigham Sajjad Kiyani, Malik Nasir Awan of Insaf Workers Front and PIA Employees Association president Abdul Mateen Abbasi.

The workers chanted slogans against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Privatisation Commission Chairman Mohammad Zubair and other ministers.

Awami National Party’s senators expressed their party’s solidarity with the PIA employees.

Addressing the protesters, Afrasiyab Khattak, Zahid Khan and Bushra Gohar condemned the attack on the airline’s employees in Karachi and called for a judicial inquiry into the killing of two employees.

They said they had opposed the bill of privatisation of PIA in the Senate and would do it again. “The ANP is standing by the protesting PIA workers,” Mr Khattak said.

Published in Dawn, February 6th, 2016

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