Editorial - PIA turbulence -Thursday, February 10, 2011

Source : www.dawn.com

THE national airline’s flight path over the past few days has been anything but smooth. Violent protests led by a section of PIA employees have rocked the nation’s airports, resulting in flight delays, cancellations and massive inconvenience for passengers. The protests have been organised by a joint action committee representing different PIA workers’ unions. The disgruntled employees want an understanding on code-sharing between the flag carrier and Turkish Airlines scrapped and have called for managing director Aijaz Haroon to be shown the door. Relations between the management and a section of employees have remained tense over the past few years but the Turkish Airlines issue is the straw that broke the camel’s back. Now both sides appear to have arrived at the point of no return. The protests seem to have been exacerbated by the sacking of eight pilots — including the chief of the Pakistan Airline Pilots’ Association — on Monday. Protest organisers have claimed ‘outsiders’ were brought in to destroy the peaceful nature of the demonstrations. There is also a split within the unions as elements from a pro-PPP body seem to be uninterested in the protest, while scuffles between workers have also been reported. Some allege the management is playing the game of divide and rule to weaken the workers.

Code-share agreements are a norm around the world. Yet it is the manner in which this understanding has apparently been reached which is cause for concern. It is marked by a lack of transparency. PIA’s employees — as well as the national parliament — must be taken into confidence on the issue as there are fears that jobs will be lost if PIA signs off its North American routes to Turkish Airlines. Also, code-share agreements exist where there is limited traffic for an airline; by most accounts PIA’s North American routes are amongst its most profitable. PIA’s management has mishandled the crisis as ignoring or suppressing workers’ sentiments is counter-productive. Both sides must climb down and violence should be shunned. Though streamlining PIA’s affairs is long overdue, justifying murky decisions and then using heavy-handed tactics to deal with dissent will achieve little.

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