PIA set to face continuing strike on fourth day

Nov 30, -0001

KARACHI: A fourth day of strike action looked set to paralyse Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) after talks ended in stalemate Thursday despite mounting losses of around $12 million dollars, officials said.
Staff have been on picket lines since Tuesday, cancelling more than 100 flights, stranding 25,000 passengers and adding to the woes of the troubled state carrier on the brink of bankruptcy.
Employees are furious with management plans to farm out lucrative European and US routes to Turkish Airlines, in an effort to rescue the airline from bankruptcy. They want the plan scrapped and the managing director sacked.
But a second round of talks between union leaders and the government ended with nothing more than an agreement to meet again on Friday, which would push industrial action into a fourth day.
"There is corruption and mismanagement, and we agreed that conditions need to be improved in PIA," interior minister Rehman Malik told reporters after talks with union leaders in the capital Islamabad.
"I am carrying their demands to the (government) leadership and we will meet again tomorrow to discuss how can we resolve this matter," he said.
Suhail Baluch, president of the Pakistan Airlines Pilots Association, said the strike would continue until the codeshare agreement was abandoned, managing director Aijaz Haroon sacked and all suspended employees reinstated.
"The talks were held in a cordial atmosphere but so far there is no agreement," he said.
"We have given them time to convey our demands to the government," he added, after a separate meeting between union leaders and the parliamentary defence committee was postponed.
PIA says at least 110 flights have been cancelled since the strike began on Tuesday, including to Britain, the Middle East, Europe and Asia.
"We have to cancel about 80 flights today including a dozen international flights," PIA spokesman Mashhood Tajwar told AFP.
He said flights from all airports were grounded but expressed hope the situation would improve on Friday.
"As employees have assured us of no violence during their protest, we think it can enable us to gather personnel and make other arrangements, and resume operations by tomorrow."
Another PIA official said more than 25,000 passengers had been affected by the cancelled flights.
Two company officials told AFP on condition of anonymity that the strike action was costing the airline one billion rupees ($11.7 million dollars).
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani called for a negotiated agreement between staff and management "in the larger interest" of the national carrier.
Five pilots have been told to stay away from work and around 70 PIA employees were forced into compulsory leave last month for "agitation" against management plans.
The proposed codeshare, which still needs to be approved by the government and regulators, would mean PIA relinquishing lucrative routes to Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and US destinations New York and Chicago.
PIA last year asked the government, already saddled with mounting debt and struggling to contain the fallout from catastrophic flooding, to write off losses of $1.7 billion to save it from looming bankruptcy.



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