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Perspectives

No Salaries Deductions for PIA Pilots Misconceptions spread by PALPA - Business as Usual

The devastating effects of COVID-19 are becoming visible with every passing day. As per the IMF & World bank...
Updated 06 Nov 2020

The devastating effects of COVID-19 are becoming visible with every passing day. As per the IMF & World bank released data in October 2020, Global economy projected -4.4% to -5.2% contraction in world GDP which is believed to be far worst than during the 2008–09 financial crisis. So far this VIRUS has affected the globe however the worst hit sector by the virus is GLOBAL AVIATION INDUSTRY. As per the ICAO latest report on aviation industry revealed that an overall reduction of air passengers (both international and domestic) ranging from 60% to 62% in 2020 compared to 2019, An estimated loss of approximately 60% of passenger traffic and over USD 104.5 billion airport revenues losses in 2020 compared to 2019. Another global body IATA calculated 54.7% decline of revenue passenger kilometers (RPKs, both international and domestic) in 2020 compared to 2019. UNWTO calculated a decline in international tourism receipts of between USD 910 to 1,170 billion in 2020, compared to the USD 1.5 trillion generated in 2019.

Such Losses in Global Aviation Industry has affected thousands of employees & families. Thousands of employees lost their jobs and many who still remain a part of airline in any capacity are forced to work on reduced salaries upto 50% even. Many Airlines got HUGE bailout packages from their governments to survive this worst pandemic like in USA, United Airlines got $25 Billion USD , KLM got 11.7 Billion USD etc . Overall Airline Bailouts exceeds $160 Billion USD till October 2020. Many Giant Airlines like Emirates, Qatar, British Airways laid off thousands of employees including PILOTS & Cabin Crews due to reduced flying and Border closures.

PIA is no exception to COVID crisis. PIA an already hugely debted airline went through a resilient Crisis as well. PIA operations were shut down in March 2020 when globally all aviation industry came to a halt. However PIA was allowed to repatriate Overseas Pakistanis abroad. Regular flying of PIA reduced more than 70-90%. PIA from thousands of flights a month was reduced down to few hundreds only. However besides all the worst crisis , PIA management continued to pay full salaries to its employees when world over airlines were cutting down on wages and strength. When this crisis deepened and PIA was further slipping into a financial lock down, PIA management implemented a variable pay cut with an aim to minimize the effect on lower cadre of PIA which was reversed recently when financial situation got better. Beside this PIA management adopted multilateral approach to minimize the COVID impact on PIA & on its employees which included further Cost cutting , Revenue generation , exploring untapped markets and flying Cargo Flights . Till today PIA is probably the only airline which did not lay off any employee due worst COVID-19 crisis beside being under a huge debt of over 450 Billion PKR.

Historically, PIA has been under political pressures both from inside and outside. Unions and associations have been fighting for their shares and no one thought of the organization itself which was swiftly losing its image and was moving under mountains of debt. Today, if you look at PIA as a whole, it has become a fragmented entity due to self-centered approach of these unions and associations. Every association had become a bargaining agent with management and had gotten working agreements signed for their respective segments. Through these working agreements, these associations had gotten the perks and privileges depending on their nuisance resulting in unjustified and unequal terms and conditions of the service. This way PIA continued to bleed and became a white elephant. Any violation of any clause of working agreement, the so called affected party would take the management to court. As per statistics, PIA has above 1000 court cases currently. The best thing probably the current management has done is that they de recognized the illegal role of associations as bargaining agents. As expected, the worst but expected response from these associations was to become hurdle in management’s efforts of revival of the airline as these associations did not want to lose the control since they had literally strangled the management. PALPA, the pilots’ association took the management to the court for de recognizing them as bargaining agent but got the court’s decision against them as legally they had no standing. One of the associations took CEO Air Marshal Arshad Malik to honorable Supreme Court for not having the relevant experience and qualifications. As an interim order, the CEO was stopped from working and the national airline remained headless for almost four months. Finally, the apex court allowed Air Marshal to resume his job as CEO. These are the kinds of hurdles which current management is facing.

As mentioned earlier, PIA did not lay off even a single employee during Covid and had been paying salaries to its employees. Due limited operations and cash flow issues, it was difficult to sustain such practice and management decided to rationalize the unjustified allowances of different cadres which was also creating unrest among employees. Rather than becoming thankful to management for not laying off employees or not sending them on forced leave and on just rationalizing the unjust allowances, the associations especially PALPA has started fresh campaign against management. As whenever, their perks and privileges are touched, it becomes a Safety issue for them. PILOTS in any airline are a group of highly paid employees due to nature of their job. All Pilots globally in any airline are hired for their services and paid according to the number of flying hours they fly. However, in PIA this was not the case. Previous managements were forced into signing a working agreement with PIA pilots (thanks to infamous pilots’ association PALPA) under which PIA was bound to pay every pilot a GUARENTEED 75 hours flying allowance irrespective of his flying. Supreme Court of Pakistan ordered 10 years audit of PIA from 2008-2017. The audit report revealed that PIA pilots were flying 40 hours a month on an average; however, all pilots in PIA were being paid for 75 hours irrespective of whether they were flying , grounded , flying 10 hours or not flying at all along with a basic salary , house rent allowance and other facilities. Now the question arises, Is there any other airline in the world which follows the same pattern?. After a deep analysis, the answer is NO.

Now, the management only changed this GROSS MALPRACTICE going on in PIA since decade. Now any pilot who is suspended, not flying will not be getting any flying allowance. Management has actually incentivized the payment of flying allowance. Any pilot who will fly will be paid. Also Flying hour rate of all the pilots was not reduced, however any pilot who will now fly more will be paid more as an incentive to be productive for PIA. Even, the management has increased the flying rate per hour above certain threshold by 1.1 ratio. This speaks volumes about the professionalism of the current management which besides worst Global pandemic and reduced revenues has managed to secure jobs for thousands of employees. The easiest Path was to follow the pattern of other Giant airlines, which during this pandemic laid off pilots, sent them on forced leaves without pays or terminated their services on a month notice. However, PIA not only retained its PILOTS but continued to pay them on time salaries despite having a huge reduction of revenues. Unfortunately, PALPA is trying to de-track the pilots and is unnecessarily creating unrest among them. Rather than coming forward and putting in their share in revival of the airline, it is creating hurdles by spreading the word that their salaries have been reduced whereas actually there is no change as they will be getting justified flying allowance for whatever they fly actually. Similarly, the allowances of other cadres of employees were also rationalized but they never raised a voice this time understandably as the very survival of airline is a question mark at the moment, but hats off to our self- centered PALPA which wants to take every blood droplet of bleeding airline.

For PIA safety of passengers always comes first. Flying is a very sacred profession and flight safety is always the top priority of PIA. No compromises would ever be made on passenger safety. PIA management is keeping a track of all the developments happening in global aviation industry and local developments on daily basis. Covid second wave has already entered Pakistan and in coming weeks, few countries might again be entering a border closure with rest of the world. Global predictions by global bodies for aviation industry are giving a very negative outlook and it might take another year to get out of the effects of this pandemic.

This is high time for all the pseudo intellectuals to understand the realities of aviation prevailing around the globe before it gets too late. Salvation lies in Fidelity.

Anwar Bhatti

Anwar Bhatti Ex-airline pilot