MANILA, Philippines - The president of Philippine Airlines (PAL) on Monday said management is considering suing 25 Filipino pilots who resigned en masse, leading to cancellations of 11 flights over the weekend.
In an interview, PAL President Jaime Bautista said the 13 pilots and 12 first officers were ordered to return to work in 7 days or face criminal and administrative charges. He said PAL has 150 flights a day, adding the cancellation of 5 flights alone meant a serious dent on daily operations.
"They resigned without complying with the 180-day notice. Flights are scheduled for 6 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 in an ABS-CBN "Umagang Kay Ganda' interview.
He said that in the case of the recent resignations "some pilots would file their resignations today and not show up for work the next day."
"We have 150 flights a day. Just 5 canceled flights can affect up to 5,000 people," he said.
On Monday, PAL management canceled 4 domestic flights due to lack of pilots. The 4 cancelled flights as of 8 a.m. are: including Manila-Iloilo (PR 147), Iloilo-Manila (PR 148), Manila-Bacolod (PR135), and Bacolod-Manila (PR136).
Bautista admitted the flag carrier is losing accredited pilots to startup airlines who offer better pay.
"Other airlines can afford to pay higher salaries as they don't have to train. It costs P10 million 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 5 years. Bautista said of the 25 resigned pilots, only 2 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 have an estimated P100,000 monthly basic pay, with an average productivity pay of P250,000. He said pilots could earn as much as P500,000 a month including benefits.
A PAL pilot who resigned from the company in May said he chose to resign as the company began cutting-back on its pilots citing redundancy.
"I couldn't wait for the termination notice. I have a family to take care of. Some pilots were being made to resign and sign documents that said they were redundant. They had the choice to accept termination or be moved to the air team where salaries were lower," he said.
Bautista, however, denied ever forcing their pilots to resign.
"We don't have redundant regular pilots. Sometime in March, there was a slowdown in the airline industry and we decided to ground two planes. When you cut down on flights, you need less pilots but that does not mean they're taken out. We need more pilots specially when airline traffic normalizes, as was the case when the airline industry went on rebound in April. We need to keep hiring pilots," he said.
Impact on tourism
Speaking on ANC's "Headstart," Tourism Secretary Alberto Lim voiced reservations on the potential impact to the country's tourism industry if the labor dispute was not immediately resolved.
"This is a basically a labor dispute between management and employees. I only hope that its not going to prolong the dispute because if its a prolonged dispute then our image as a destination would be affected," Lim said.
"Hopefully, we will be able to come up with a resolution, so that the riding public is not inconvenience and the economy does not suffer because what is an inter-company dispute," President Benigno Aquino III said on Sunday.
A public duty
Capt. Amado Soliman, president of the Air Safety Foundation of the Philippines, said that while the pilots' reasons for leaving may be legitimate, they still have a responsibility to the public.
"Pilots are not like ordinary workers. They have a responsibility to the public. And the airline industry is a public utility. If you stop working, there must be a 30-day notice and pilots should honor their contracts. It would be unfair to the public if they just walked out," he said.
He said the matter should be threshed out by both PAL management and the resigned pilots.
PAL Spokesman Jonathan Gesmundo said PAL officials will meet with the pilots who left the airline on Wednesday.
PAL crew hit with resignations
But PAL appears headed for more problems. Even flight crews are reportedly warning to launch a labor strike, if PAL management refuses to heed their demands for a salary increase.
The PAL Flight Attendants' and Stewards' Association of the Philippines is complaining of unfair labor policies. The group's president, Bob Anduiza, said some airline staff have already left the country.
"The 747 staff has been reduced. Instead of 18 there are only 16 staff members, many have resigned because there is no job security. they are applying for work in other countries," he said.
The case of the flight crews is still pending at the National Labor Relations Commission.
Probe into PAL retrenchment
Meantime, the Anak-Pawis partylist filed a resolution at the House of Representatives, seeking an inquiry into the airline company's move to retrench some 2,600 employees.
"This is meant to understand the circumstances surrounding the issue and why 2,600 employees stand to be affected. We have to make sure that the right of workers is not being violated," Anakpawis party-list Rep.Rafael Mariano said.