PAL strike looms as deadlock continues

By RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 09 2010 05:41 PM | Updated as of Aug 10 2010 10:29 AM

MANILA, Philippines (1st UPDATE) - A repeat of the mid-90’s strike that crippled the operations of flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) looms again.

This as the labor dispute between management and its employees over the contractualization of its personnel rests on an August 12 conciliation meeting with Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz.

PAL Employees Association's (PALEA) Bong Palad told media at the Lower House on Monday about the possibility of a strike.

“Sasabihin namin sa inyo 'pag walang nangyari sa August 12. Kung alisin nila iyong 2,604 employees, kailangan pa ba strike?"

Palad said they may have the numbers to again cripple the airline’s operations. “We hope so, we have an alliance with FASAP [Flight Attendants’ and Stewards’ Association of the Philippines] and pilots,” he added.

FASAP is the Flight Attendants and Stewards Association of the Philippines.

Palad belied management claims that the airline is losing money, even as he maintained the flag carrier is still lording over the local airline industry.

Palad finds it questionable that the company is only announcing its losses now that they have been without a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with employees for 10 years due to a moratorium sought by PAL chair Lucio Tan when the company went into receivership.

“Bakit iyong 10 taon na nakabayad ng utang, wala kayong sinasabing nalugi? Ang PAL kaiba sa ibang airlines. Pasahero ng PAL OFW [overseas Filipino worker]. There were 16 million, ilan ang umuuwi doon? Kaya nga may foreign carrier kasi di kayang isakay ng PAL lahat,” he said.

PAL employees have complained that many of them have gotten letters of termination along with employment offers in spin-off companies that will handle some of the company’s airline needs.

FASAP rejects P80-M package

Also on Monday, FASAP refused the P80 million one-time economic package offered by the management of Philippine Airlines (PAL).

Talks at the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB) again broke down on Monday morning as the 1,600-strong union remains adamant that the management has not been giving them their rightful claim.

For the first time, the PAL management offered something “in black and white…but it is not enough,” FASAP Vice President Andy Ortega said in a phone interview.

In a separate press release, PAL explained the P80 million package will settle and close economic issues in its CBA for the period 2005 to 2010.

This covers wage distortions and rice subsidies.

PAL said this is the only amount it could give the flight attendants because of its current financial condition.

“We hope FASAP members will understand PAL's predicament and accept the offer. While we recognize their desire for higher compensation, PAL's current financial situation will not allow it to offer more,” PAL President Jaime Bautista said.

Ortega, however, noted PAL had given their counterparts in the PALEA a much better option.

“They were given 5% to 10% [salary increase]. We could start discussing on that,” he said.

Ortega also noted PAL is still remiss on its counter-offer with regard to its compulsory retirement policy.

Under the existing CBA, male and female flight attendants who were hired before November 1996 would be retired once they reach 60 and 55 years old, respectively, and those hired from 1996 and beyond would be retired at age 45 for both males and females. Those hired after November 2000, on the other hand, will be retired by the age of 40 for both males and females.

“We want the retirement age [for all] to be 60 years old, no more, no less,” Ortega said.

Ortega said FASAP representatives will again meet with PAL management on Tuesday.

If the management does not provide a better counter-offer by Tuesday, the union will make good its threat that members will go on strike, Ortega said.

In an interview with ANC, PAL spokesman Cielo Villaluna said the negotiating table is the best avenue to address their concerns.

She asked FASAP to go slow on its threats considering there is a process involved.

She also warned this would be detrimental not only to their livelihood, but also to the riding public. She said the strikes would definitely cause flight cancellations.

Ortega, however, said “3 years na kami nag-uusap, nag-aantay. Tapos, they’re saying they want more time? That’s unfair.”