Is the Worst Really Over at PAL? Not Quite, as Workers Brace for More Turbulence

The dialogue brokered by government did not address the root causes of the unrest raised by the pilots who resigned. Instead, PAL will continue to implement its massive spin-off and contractualization schemes – approved by the Arroyo regime, not yet rescinded by the Aquino government — that will affect thousands of PAL’s cabin and ground employees.

By MARYA SALAMAT
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – In the face of mounting calls for the government to investigate Lucio Tan’s alleged losses and abuses of his employees in Philippine Airlines, the Aquino government has retreated from further intervention in the ongoing labor disputes in the airline, suggesting that the trouble at the country’s flag carrier may be over.

But is it?

After brokering a dialogue between PAL pilots and management last Thursday, Malacañang claimed satisfaction at having ���opened communication lines between the two parties” that led to “a commitment from PAL management not to do the things that the pilots viewed as discriminatory.”

Without delving into why communication lines between pilots and management were shut down in the first place — the pilots lost their union to PAL’s union-busting in 1998 — presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda told reporters last week that the government has “options on reserve,” except a takeover of PAL, should the flying public got affected again.

Related story: PAL’s Pilot Woes, Labor Disputes ‘a Direct Result of Lucio Tan’s Profiteering, Abuse of Workers’

Lacierda said the government’s “overriding concern is the riding public” for whom, Malacañang now believes, “the worst may be over” because of the dialogue it brokered between the pilots and management.

But to the rest of PAL employees, things may not be as reassuring.

Last week, some members of the ground employees union PALEA joined the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) and Anakpawis in a picket in front of PAL’s corporate offices in Makati. The group denounced Lucio Tan for “intensifying the exploitation and pushing for the layoff of workers in the airline.”


A junior pilot, who just arrived from a flight, outside the NAIA 2 airport. PAL pilots remain without a union. (Photo by Marya Salamat / bulatlat.com)

They also called on the government to investigate Tan’s profits and alleged anti-labor schemes. More protest actions of PAL unions have been scheduled next week.

Threat to Job Security

“Just because the PAL management has agreed to some of the immediate demands of the pilots doesn’t mean that job security and justice have already been granted to the pilots and the majority of PAL workers,” said KMU chairman Elmer Labog in a statement. “The threat of contractualization remains very real, as 3,000 employees stand to lose their tenure, or even their jobs, soon. So everyone who works in PAL has reason to worry and protest.”

Related story: As Though 11-Year CBA Suspension Not Enough, PAL Employees Face Layoffs, Contractualization

Despite the government’s brokered dialogue between PAL pilots and management, PAL pilots remain unrepresented by a union to this day. They also remain as some of the lowest paid pilots in the region, with little retirement benefits and insecure job tenure to boot, as pilots who resigned had disclosed to the media.

Without a union, pilots are also more vulnerable to gag orders, said members of PALEA who have refused to sign a waiver currently being distributed by PAL management to all employees, from pilots to cabin crew and ground workers. The waiver allegedly forbids them from divulging to anyone any information related to the company.

The mass resignation of pilots last week exposed Tan’s scheme to employ them as lower-paid contractual employees in his budget airline, Air Philippines. But the same scheme is intended for nearly half of the 7,400 PAL workforce, Labog said.

Aside from the pilots, the cabin crew union and ground employees’ union are set to talk with PAL management on different dates at the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE). Both raised issues about PAL management’s efforts to cut workers’ salaries and reduce benefits.

The 1,600-strong Flight Attendants and Stewards Association of the Philippines (FASAP), for instance, is seeking to break the three-year deadlock of their collective bargaining negotiations with PAL management. The 3,700-plus PAL Employees Association of the Philippines (PALEA), meanwhile, wanted to start negotiating for a new CBA following the end of their almost 12-year CBA moratorium. But PAL management has so far been blocking this with plans to terminate nearly 3,000 of their members and transfer them as contractual labor to Tan’s other companies, some of which are allegedly dummy firms.

During former President Arroyo’s last two weeks in office, the DOLE gave PAL the go signal to implement Tan’s scheme. PALEA has since opposed it, with the union officials accusing then acting labor secretary Romeo C. Lagman of favoring Tan.

PALEA president Gerry Rivera told Bulatlat at the sidelines of one of their protests at the labor department that aside from the planned contractualization via a “spin-off” of three PAL departments, there is already an ongoing contractualization of their present jobs.

He said a “very conservative estimate” of more than 1,500 jobs in PAL today may already be contract-based. Anakpawis in PAL said regular PAL workers who retire are being replaced by contractual and not regular personnel. PALEA believes the spin-off will only fast-track the contractualization process already underway in the airline.

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  1. What we, the people of the Philippines must know that this is not isolated to Philippine Airlines alone. There are a lot of companies doing this discriminatory practice in the guise of "business sense" and legal mumbo jumbo. There might have been amendments to our constitution that have tipped the scales too much in favour of unethical business practices that serves only the few. If there is conflict of interest wherein an owner deliberately sets his course down the path toward bankruptcy, the people working in it revolt, as what is happening to PAL now. How in the world can it be logical for an owner to chop up a company, sell off or spin off the earning assets and put up a parallel company to compete against the former? Create decisions that will indebt the company to the oil companies for so long then charge the riding public and much worse, their employees for their folly. With whatever is leftover, declare it losing or bankrupt and leave the people working in it with not even a livelihood? Then puts up a new company, hires a new batch of employees or transfers some from the old with less than half the salary and no benefits and much worse no job security? And to top it all off, make a killing from the other companies he puts up and be named the richest man in the land? Why is that? Isn’t this the modern version of the form of slavery that was abolished ages ago by the supposed civilized world? If so then we no longer live in a democratic nation. We are a country oppressed by the oligarchs who believe they alone have the right to enjoy the benefits of our constitution. This must be stopped.

    Wake up! Make sense of what is going around you. Work not for your own alone but for all of us.

    We can point the blame at so many others for bringing us to where we are now but ultimately, we have only ourselves to blame; for doing nothing. The saying “the only thing for evil to flourish is for the good to do nothing” holds sway right now in our lands. Let us do something about it and believe that with the present leadership, no matter how imperfect it is, we have the potential to accomplish this.

    We fervently hope that this government of ours is a government of the people, by the people and for the people. Let that hope not die for whom else can we turn to right now that will have any semblance of the remaining trust, no matter how meagre it is; to bring us out of this hell we are living. “Happy to serve.” Really?

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