Aquino Government Intervenes in Pilots’ Row
The Philippines reeled from the mass resignation of pilots of the flag-carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL), forcing the government of President Benigno Aquino III to intervene in the dispute between PAL management and the pilots’ union.
Some airline passengers sleep on benches as they wait for their flights at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila as national air carrier Philippine Airlines cancelled several flights. The flight cancellation was prompted by the decision of several Airbus A320 pilots to quit their jobs for work aboard foreign-owned airlines who have lured them with much higher pay. (AP)
The Philippine government on Monday intervened in the dispute between the Philippine Airlines (PAL) and its pilots which was blamed for the mass resignation of 25 Filipino pilots leading to the cancellation of several domestic and international flights over the weekend.
Government officials assured the public that the government of President Benigno Aquino III will not allow the problem to worsen even as they met with PAL officials and representatives of the pilots’ union to thresh out the issues surrounding their dispute.
Transportation Secretary Jose de Jesus admitted that the problem has a huge impact on the Philippines. “It affects our tourism and commerce, and the reputation of our country. That’s why no less than the President has weighed in on this problem. We expect to discuss the matter at great length,” De Jesus said.
Earlier, Aquino reminded both PAL officials and pilots of their accountabilities to the riding public, warning that those to blame for the problem risked being charged in court. “There has been a disruption to our tourism effort and to other aspects of the economy that would need their services. If this is not warranted, then, then lay themselves also open to appropriate charges,” Aquino said.
He said the Executive Secretary, and the heads of the departments of Transportation and Communication, Labor, and Justice will sit down with the management and the union representing the pilots.
Also on Monday, PAL President Jaime Bautista warned that the flag carrier is considering suing the 25 pilots who resigned en masse.
In a television interview, Bautista said PAL had ordered its 13 pilots and 12 first officers to return to work in seven days or face criminal and administrative charges.
He admitted that the pilots’ action has seriously affected the airline’s daily operations.”They resigned without complying with the 180-day notice. Flights are scheduled for six months and we need enough pilots to man the flights. The reason for the 180-day notice is to have the chance to get replacements and ensure that the flights leave on time,” he said.
On Monday, PAL canceled four domestic flights due to lack of pilots.
Bautista also conceded that the airline is losing pilots to startup foreign-owned airlines that offer better pay.
“Other airlines can afford to pay higher salaries as they don’t have to train. It costs 10 million pesos to train pilots from the start to the point they become captain. Startup airlines who hire pilots that they don’t have to train get substantial savings on training expenses,” he said.
Pilots who undergo PAL training are required to stay with the company for at least five years. Bautista said of the 25 resigned pilots, only two have complied with the contract. “We hope that they return. We will give them a few days to return especially those who haven’t left the country,” he said.
He said accredited PAL pilots currently receive an average of $2,173 (100,000 pesos) monthly basic pay, plus a productivity pay of $5,434 (250,000 pesos). He said pilots could earn as much as $10,870 (500,000 pesos) a month including benefits.
Compounding PAL’s problems, even the airline’s flight crews on Monday threatened to launch a labor strike if management refuses to heed their demands for a salary increase.
Bob Anduiza, the president of the PAL Flight Attendants’ and Stewards’ Association of the Philippines, said they are protesting the airline’s unfair labor policies.
He said some of the flight crews have already left the country.
In a separate television interview, Philippine Airlines Employees’ Association (PALEA) President Jerry Rivera said union members’ morale has been badly affected by the pilots’ resignations.
He said although the pilots are not members of PALEA, “our hearts and sympathies go to our pilots.”
He revealed that about 2,604 employees are in danger of losing their jobs if PAL decides to implement a plan to outsource positions.