Strike notice filed

PALEA on collision course with PAL

By E. N. J. David

A STRIKE NOTICE has been filed by employees of Philippine Airlines (PAL) over a cost-cutting plan aimed at stabilizing the flag carrier’s finances.

But going to the picket lines remains a last option, the Philippine Airlines Employees’ Association (PALEA) said, noting that the strike notice is primarily aimed at getting the government involved in settling a dispute over the airline’s plans.

"The decision to file a notice of strike is to attain the highest degree of participation and involvement of the government in resolving the current situation in PAL. We feel that negotiations in the NCMB (National Conciliation and Mediation Board) would not go anywhere without the government’s intervention and help in negotiations," PALEA President Edgardo C. Oredina told BusinessWorld.

"[A] strike, however, is only a worst case scenario," he added.

In its strike notice, PALEA cited "intended mass lay-off of union members and officers by April 2010, illegal outsourcing of regular positions, direct negotiations with union members, unresolved issues during preventive mediation, and non-compliance of pay scale review during settlement of the wage distortion."

PAL President Jaime J. Bautista last August announced that the airline needed to adopt cost-cutting measures amid a global industry downturn. Among the options being considered, he then said, were aircraft sales, cutting routes, layoffs and a search for a white knight.

Both management and the union began negotiations regarding the outsourcing of non-critical jobs in September. PALEA requested for preventive mediation from the NCMB that month and then asked for the suspension of talks in October, citing the lack of progress.

The DoLE stepped in but was unable to present an early retirement plan acceptable to PALEA, which also asked MalacaƱang to intervene.

Mr. Oredina said the government must either "help the flag carrier financially to either survive and keep all of its current employees or to provide acceptable separation pay to those willing to be retrenched..."

"Policies that do not protect the flag carrier are one cause of the falling revenues. The government must be willing to put PAL under rehabilitation and infuse fresh capital to it to save it and our jobs because if something happens to the flag carrier it is a black mark on the government," he said

The Labor department, said Mr. Oredina, will be calling a meeting between PAL and PALEA this week.

PAL management, for its part, urged the union to look at the "bigger picture and rise to the occasion.’

"The management of Philippine Airlines is deeply saddened by the decision of the PALEA to file a notice of strike at this critical juncture when the airline is struggling to stabilize its finances as a result of the worst-ever downturn in the global aviation history," it said in a statement.

"We urge PALEA to look at the bigger picture and rise to the occasion. It is particularly instructive to consider the example of other legacy flag carriers, where management and employees have shown the will to make sacrifices to save the company."

It added that it was continuing to communicate with PALEA and hoped that negotiations would be civil and open.

The Labor department normally assumes jurisdiction over labor disputes that are in the national interest. Labor Secretary Marianito D. Roque declined to comment, telling BusinessWorld "can’t pass judgment [now] as it would prejudice the case."

Mr. Oredina said: "There are long and complex talks ahead but the main point is to save the flag carrier. We are not for outsourcing but we are open to options for the sake of our members." --

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