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Friday, August 6, 2010

RP - Palace: Worst is over for PAL

The government yesterday decided to pull out from mediation talks between flag-carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) and its pilots, declaring that “the worst is over.”

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda announced that PAL has agreed not to transfer its A320 aircraft pilots to Air Philippines, which was their principal complaint since it would affect their security of tenure.

Lacierda said PAL committed to submit to the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) a revised flight schedule for all its current routes and  

publish them in newspapers.

“This will normalize the operations under a loose flight frequency,” Lacierda said.

Asked if the worst was over, Lacierda said yes, “insofar as the riding public is concerned.”

“Because they already came up with a modified flight schedule,” he said.

Lacierda added that the PAL management and the pilots would continue their dialogues to resolve the issues.

He said the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), in representing the government, pulled out to allow both parties to talk over their problems.

The DOTC, Lacierda said, would monitor the developments on the sidelines.

“Obviously they are able to resolve it among themselves now. One of the issues of the pilots was that they were being indiscriminately transferred to Air Philippines and it affected their security of tenure,” Lacierda said.

Transportation Secretary Jose de Jesus led other ranking officials in a meeting with PAL executives led by Jaime Bautista in Mandaluyong City late Wednesday.

The airline executives discussed extensively PAL’s situation with regard to their pilots and flight attendants.

“The government will relax from its mediation efforts to allow the PAL management to settle its differences with its pilots as they belong to one corporate family,” DOTC spokesman Dante Velasco said.

“And yet, the government will continue to take a watchful hands-off policy, meaning, when it becomes necessary for the government to come in through DOTC, it will do so,” he said.

PAL officials told the DOTC that due to the economic downturn experienced by the airline industry in February, they have made a “strategic shift” from their high-priced “Legacy” carrier represented by PAL, to their low-cost carrier Air Philippines.

PAL called it a “survival” move, Velasco said.

Velasco said PAL gave assurances of continuing dialogues with their remaining pilots in a bid to resolve pending issues and prevent any further exodus of its pilots.

Since PAL management made the commitment, Lacierda added this would also address the government’s concern on the exodus of pilots.

And since PAL managed to come up with a modified schedule using bigger aircraft, the “prejudice to the riding public has been diminished if not eliminated,” he said.

“There is no more need for the government to intervene between them,” Lacierda said.

Impact

Lacierda said the government could be considered successful in mediating between the PAL management and the pilots since it was able to open a dialogue and exact commitment from the airline firm against moves that the concerned pilots had considered discriminatory.

Aside from the issues of tenure, the salary of the pilots would have to be discussed as well as their working conditions, he said.

Lacierda said the pilots have complained of their working conditions, lamenting that even if there were bigger offers from airlines abroad, they would not leave the country if their working conditions were better.

He said the primary concern of the pilots against working for other airlines abroad is the possibility of being away from their families and loved ones for longer periods.

Lacierda said the government would address the continuous exodus, not just of pilots but of other workers as well.

He said the Department of Labor and Employment and the Department of Social Welfare and Development have been tasked to take appropriate measures to address the situation.

Lacierda said there was no word yet from the Department of Tourism as to how the labor issues in PAL has affected the country’s tourism and economy.

But the tourism sector said the ongoing labor issues in PAL had already made a great impact.

The Tourism Congress issued a statement yesterday expressing concern over the continuing labor dispute in PAL, citing the flight disruptions and inconveniences to local and foreign tourists.

The group warned the labor row in PAL would make the situation worse for Philippine aviation.

“The current dispute will exacerbate the ongoing problem of downgrading of the Philippines from Category 1 to Category 2 status by the US Federal Aviation Administration and the European Commission’s ban on our carriers,” the group said.

They said the current labor dispute at PAL is a matter of national interest “because issues that adversely affect the tourism industry will have a negative impact on the economy.”

Hard options

On the other hand, Lacierda warned that even if the government pulled out from the mediation talks, this does not rule out the possibility of implementing “options if in case another situation like this would occur.”

“Those options are being held in reserve,” Lacierda said. “Those options will not be disclosed.”

He said the government decided to hold its options after noting the willingness of PAL management and the remaining pilots to talk over the problem.

Lacierda said the pilots were initially afraid to face PAL management fearing repercussions.

Some 25 pilots did not report for work last week, forcing the cancellation of 18 PAL flights on Saturday and Sunday and four domestic flights on Monday.

The PAL management said the pilots did not comply with an airline rule to give 180 days’ notice before resigning.

PAL said the 25 pilots “simply left their jobs to accept higher-paying jobs abroad in violation of their existing contracts.”

PAL made some adjustments in its local and international flight schedules following the departure of 25 pilots, who were reportedly hired by Hong Kong Airlines Ltd., and Vietnam Airlines.

Cebu Pacific was not spared from the spate of resignations as reports said three of its pilots also left for Hong Kong Airlines, according to Capt. Elmer Peña, president of the Airlines Pilot Association of the Philippines (Alpap).

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, on the other hand, said one of the 25 pilots from PAL who resigned last week is her first cousin.

After learning that her cousin, Capt. Emmanuel de Lima, was among the pilots who resigned, De Lima declared she would inhibit from participating further in the mediation talks with PAL

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