MANILA, Philippines - President Benigno Aquino III said on Wednesday the government will hasten moves to adopt an open skies policy if operations of flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) are crippled by a strike.
Aquino said that while he understands the issues of PAL management and its labor unions, the government will prioritize the interests of the riding public which will be inconvenienced by the disruption of a critical service.
"I am appealing to both sides to think of future issues. If effectively they fail to live up to their obligations, the government will be forced to adopt a policy that will side with the greater population. It will have to be the riding public rather than just the interest of one corporation," Aquino said in a press conference in Malacañang.
Aquino said that the government could adopt either a total or partial open skies policy if PAL is unable to fulfill its obligations.
He said that there are other airlines that will make up for the slack if the flag carrier won't be able to resolve its row with the unions.
The Flight Attendants and Stewards Association of the Philippines (FASAP) confirmed on Wednesday its plan to hold a strike after talks with PAL bogged down.
Aside from FASAP, 25 pilots of PAL have resigned without complying with the 6-month notice, while the PAL Employees Association is also contesting the airline's move to outsource the functions of at least 3 key departments that would result in the mass layoff of some 3,000 employees.
Bob Anduiza, president of FASAP said the refusal of PAL management to scrap its discriminatory retirement policy forced the union to resort to a strike.
"For the past 10 months, we have been throwing this issue back and forth and nothing has happened. All we got are promises," Anduiza told abs-cbnNews.com.
He said FASAP withdrew from the preventive mediation talks at the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB) of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) on Tuesday after confirming that PAL did not want to table for discussion the union's demand to lift the mandatory retirement age of 40.
"They (PAL management) did not even want to discuss the issue, and since talks were going, nowhere we decided to pursue the strike option," he said.
Anduiza said majority of their 1,600 members are in favor of a strike.
"We are confident that we can get the votes we need to file a notice of strike so that these problems will finally end," he said.
Under Philippine law, unions must get a majority vote from members to stage a strike, and then notify the government before any work stoppage.
In a statement on Tuesday, PAL said the talks failed to resolve the labor row.
PAL said it had offered a package of P80 million to improve cabin crew salaries.
But FASAP rejected the offer for being too small, and said most of the money would only cover unpaid salaries the company owed them.
PAL also wants to exclude the early retirement issue from the current mediation process, saying it should be tackled in a new collective bargaining agreement for the 5 years to 2015.
"They keep on throwing information to muddle the issue. For years, management promised it would sit down with the union to discuss its demand to lift the mandatory retirement age even before the current CBA lapses, but management always found a way to put it off. This time, we don't want anymore delays, that issue has to be fixed now," said Anduiza.
He said that PAL cannot even explain to the public why it insists on retiring flight attendants at such an early age.
"PAL is also unfairly using this issue as leverage and bargaining chip to get difficult work-rule changes from the flight attendants, and make them work more for less pay," said Anduiza.
He said that the airline's policy on pregnancy and maternity leaves is not only discriminatory, but unlawful as well.
“Flight attendants who get pregnant are placed on prolonged leave without pay, and this period is deducted from her years of service. It is the same treatment imposed for erring employees who are penalized with suspension.”
Worse, he said, even while on maternity leave, which is mandated by law, PAL deducts the 60-day maternity leave from the flight attendants' years of service.