Islamabad | All domestic and international flights run by Pakistan’s ailing flag carrier were cancelled today as the country-wide strike by PIA employees opposing the government’s privatisation move entered the second day. Pakistan International Airlines workers’ unions went on strike yesterday while the pilots joined in the evening after three workers were shot dead during clashes between security forces and Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) staff at Karachi’s international airport. At least 12 others were injured in the clashes.
A PIA official said that all domestic and international flights were cancelled as pilots and airport staff were not available to handle the cargo and the passengers. Four major airports Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport, Islamabad’s Benazir Bhutto International Airport, Lahore’s Allama Iqbal International Airport and Peshawar’s Bacha Khan International Airport saw a huge rush of passengers due to flight cancellations. Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is trying to convince private airlines to operate additional flights to make up for the flights cancelled.
The government has already invoked the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) for six months, banning all protests. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif yesterday threatened to sack the protesting workers, but it appears to have had no impact. PIA Joint Action Committee (JAC) spokesman Nasrullah Khan said employees would continue to boycott work until government takes back the bill passed on January 21, converting the national flag carrier into a public limited company and accepts their four-point demand. The bill provides the government with an option to enter into an agreement with a strategic partner by selling up to 36 per cent shares.
The government plans to split the PIA into two companies and sell the control of its core business to a global airline. PIA has been running into losses for years and government says it was not possible to turn around it with the current system of management. Last week, the government postponed its privatisation after token protests by PIA employees.
It, however, said that it will go ahead with the privatisation plans of the PIA, which has total losses and debts of around 254 and 300 billion Pakistani Rupees (USD 2.8 billion). Launched in 1955, PIA presently has a workforce of around 14,700 with a ratio of around 390 employees for one aircraft, the biggest in any airline. Officials and analysts say the airlines has been bleeding losses and has accumulated debts. In the last six years around 5,700 employees were hired during the tenures of the Pakistan Peoples Party and PML-N of Prime Minister Sharif.