Palace may 'rush' open skies as PAL strike looms

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 01 2010 05:07 PM | Updated as of Oct 02 2010 03:06 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang on Friday said it may rush the adoption of the open skies policy as a planned strike threatens to paralyze the operations of flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL).

"Nasabi na nung pangulo he would rather parties amicably settle the issue. He will not prejudice the riding public, yun ang mahalaga. Sinabi na ni pangulo pag 'di naayos ang hidwaan, mapipilitan siyang madaliin ang open skies," Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said.

President Benigno Aquino III had warned PAL the government would give away its flight schedules to other airlines if it failed to resolve its dispute with the Flight Attendants and Stewards Association of the Philippines (FASAP), which withdrew from negotiations this week to push through with a planned work stoppage.

"It happened before in 1997, Cathay Pacific asked to provide help nangyari na yun. It’s not remote. It can happen again for purpose of not prejudicing public," Lacierda noted.

An open skies policy, which is widely seen to boost tourism, would deregulate air traffic in the country and allow more airlines to service the Manila route. PAL and other local carriers have been contesting the policy because they said increased competition could severely affect their financial health.

FASAP announced on Wednesday it would go on strike at the end of October, saying that PAL management had repeatedly rejected its demands for a pay rise.

It is also demanding paid maternity leave and an end to a company policy that forces female air hostesses to retire at the age of 40.

The government has called both sides to attend a meeting on October 5 in a last-ditch effort to avoid a strike, but the union said it was still preparing for a strike because it expected PAL to take a hardline stance.

Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said, however, that if the airline and its flight attendants' union failed to reach an agreement next week, she would assume jurisdiction over the dispute, making a strike illegal.

"We are (looking) after the interests of the riding public. PAL is still the national carrier and there is the national interest to protect," she said.

Assuming jurisdiction would force the two sides to negotiate further and, if an agreement was still not reached, the secretary could make a decision on the dispute, Baldoz explained.

The vice-president of the 1,600-strong cabin crew union, Andy Ortega, said his members would respect the secretary's authority but stressed that Baldoz should resolve the conflict quickly and fairly.

"If they stop us because of national interest, we expect them to do their part in giving us a fair and fast decision," he said.

The planned strike is the latest in a string of labor problems to hit the airline.

In August, 25 pilots and first officers on PAL's short-haul aircraft suddenly quit for higher paying jobs abroad, forcing the abrupt cancellation of several flights. - report from RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News, Wtih AFP