Pakistan International Airlines To Take Legal Action Against Protesting Staff

The loss-making airline is attempting to squash the token protest before it escalates.

  •  PIA is taking legal action against its employees, claiming violations of the Essential Services Act and preventing protests or sit-ins.
  •  The airline has suffered financial losses and the government wants to privatize it, which employees oppose and demand a salary increase.
  •  Tensions are rising, with employees threatening a full strike and the administration sealing the offices of protesting associations.

The administration of Pakistan International Airlines PIA has doubled down against its employees, who are currently in the midst of a strike. The airline has completed legal consultations to move forward and take action against its employees.

The airline will claim the employees have violated the Pakistan Essential Services (Maintenance) Act, 1952, which was imposed in May. When applied, the act makes any negligence in the line of duty a crime. In addition, the act prevents employees from gathering in crowds, staging protests or sit-ins.

Three strikes

PIA has had its fair share of problems in recent years; the airline is bleeding money, and the government has been attempting to privatize the airline in hopes that new management may return it to profitability. It is one of the few airlines not to see a resurgence in profits after the COVID-19 pandemic ended. In fact, the losses it made increased year-on-year.

Employees want the caretaker government to reverse the privatization process. In the event it cannot, they want the process to be halted until a new government takes over. Employees also demand a salary increase, claiming that other government departments received salary increments, but PIA employees were left out. In April, the pilots threatened a strike over non-payment issues as well.

Rising tensions

Employees are on a token strike, closing booking offices nationwide from 1500 to 1700 local time. However, Hidayatullah, president of the national airline’s CBA People’s Unity union, threatened a full strike if their demands were unmet.

However, the PIA’s administration doesn’t seem to be relenting just yet. The administration even sealed the offices of the airline’s Senior Officers Association (SSA) for protesting against the privatization and bifurcation decisions and for a salary raise.

Safdar Anjum, the PIA’s SSA Secretary General, said that the action to seal the offices is illegal and the administration’s move threatens to destroy a peaceful environment. He also said the protests will not cease until the demands are met.

Privatization of PIA

The last time PIA was profitable was nearly twenty years ago in 2004. Since then the airline has accrued massive debts which it cannot hope to pay back. The airline has been flirting with the idea of privatization since early 2016.

Historically, loss-making national carriers becoming privatized has seen positive results. However, the PIA’s employees are vehemently opposed to the proposal. This is the second time the airline has experienced strikes due to the idea of privatization.

In response to the 2016 privatization plans, PIA employees staged a massive protest that resulted in the airline suffering a huge PRK 1.8 billion loss ($5.94 million).

Increasing strikes

There has been an increasing number of strikes globally across the aviation industry, most of which are related to the employee shortage. Employees are fighting for better contracts as airlines push them more to pick up the slack from a lack of specialized workers.

By Zanib Sabahat Ali