All domestic and international flights of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) were cancelled on Wednesday as the national airline’s employees’ strike against privatization entered a second day.
“All PIA flights have been suspended indefinitely,” an airport official told The Express Tribune. PIA representatives at Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport, Islamabad’s Benazir Bhutto International Airport, Lahore’s Allama Iqbal International Airport and Peshawar’s Bacha Khan International Airport confirmed that all domestic and international flights scheduled for today were cancelled.
PIA employees resumed their protest, which came as the federal government invoked the Essential Services (Maintenance) Act, 1952, in the PIA for six months, outside major airports across the country.
A standoff between the government and the national airline’s employees turned deadly on Tuesday after three protesters were killed by ‘mysterious’ gunshots during a violent protest at Karachi airport, bringing air traffic across the country to near standstill.
A chain of events saw PIA Chairman Nasser Jaffer resigning from his post, taking full responsibility for the brute use of force against the protesters in Karachi. Sensing the predicament of air travellers, the Civil Aviation Authority has requested a private airline company, Air Blue, to commence special flights from Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad.
As the news of the protest spread on Tuesday, the Pakistan Airlines Pilots Association (Palpa) told its members not to proceed to any airport in the country. More than 35 domestic and international flights had been cancelled by the evening.
Pilots, cabin crew and flight dispatchers, who had earlier reported to work, started walking away. Officials fear the Engineering Department, which besides aircraft overhauls is responsible for checking planes before every flight, can technically bring the airline to its knees.
Unlike previous showdowns, the government tried to act smart this time and invoked the Essential Services (Maintenance) Act to outlaw union activity.
The strategy worked as hardly any flight was cancelled until 11am when around 1,000 PIA employees started the march playing on a truck-mounted megaphone a provocative song, “Tere Baap Ki Nahi Hai PIA”.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif believes that some political parties are backing the national airline’s strike, causing losses of Rs100 million per day.
The premier told the media on Tuesday that the Essential Services (Maintenance) Act was extended to the Pakistan International Airlines to improve the performance of the national flag carrier.
However, politicking is underway in the PIA, he added. “And it is going on with the backing of some political parties. Should we not check it and improve the situation?”
PM Nawaz said passengers face hardships due to the airline’s poor service and the poor condition of its fleet. “Should we ignore it?” he asked, and then responded himself: “It will not happen at all!”
He said the protesting employees would face action, and warned them of termination from service and a year in prison under the essential services act. “Any concession to such elements would be unfair to the country.”