After pilots, PAL cabin crew raise strike threat

PHILIPPINE Airlines’ flight attendants said Monday they planned to strike in two weeks amid an impasse in talks on what they claimed was the flag carrier’s practice of assigning fewer than needed staff on flights.

“PAL has been getting away with its obligations to the riding public,” said Robert Anduiza, president of Flight Attendants and Stewards’ Association of the Philippines.

The group, which represents about 1,600 of the flag carrier’s in-flight crew, claims that PAL has reduced the complement of cabin crew in long-haul flights to 16 from the required 18.

“It is our view that to cut on manpower per flight will be a downgrade rather than an improvement of PAL’s inflight service product,” Anduiza said in a letter to management.

But airline president Jaime Bautista denied that the capital-strapped airline had been undermanning its flights.

“We just reduced the number of cabin crew comparable with the manning of other airlines,” Bautista told reporters.

The threat of a widened industrial action came despite President Aquino calling the management to Malacañang over the recent flight cancellations due to a pilot shortage.

The government said it aimed to resolve the shortage within the week as flight cancellations were hurting trade and tourism.

Because of the cancellation of at least 22 flights over the weekend that continued until Monday, PAL said it might miss its goal of returning to profit this year.

“We may have to revise this year’s targets,” Bautista said.

“The pilot resignations are a poaching issue,” he said, referring to the continued exodus of 25 Airbus pilots to higher-paying jobs in Asia and the Middle East.

Most of the pilots will join Hong Kong Airlines as they have been offered higher wages and better conditions, according to Elmer Pena, president of the Airline Pilots Association of the Philippines. The Chinese-backed carrier started a recruiting in June as it added new planes because of rising travel demand in the world’s most populous nation.

“We’ve been hiring pilots from all over the world,” Hong Kong Air president Yang Jian Hong said by phone Monday. He declined to comment on whether the carrier had hired PAL pilots.

The Airbus A320 captains joining Hong Kong Air, which is backed by China’s Hainan province, would get as much as $17,000 a month on which they would pay 15 percent income tax, Pena said. PAL paid them about $7,000 on which they paid 32-percent tax.

About three pilots were also leaving Cebu Pacific, which paid less than Philippine Airlines, for Hong Kong Airlines, Pena said.

Emerging from the Malacañang meeting early Monday night, Transport Secretary Jose de Jesus said the government and airline officials would meet again today.

The PAL management had committed to inviting back, without threat of any sanctions, the pilots who had resigned, De Jesus said, even though the unresolved pilot compensation was “part of the problem.”

Cebu Pacific “did not express concern” on pilots leaving, De Jesus said. Still, the Gokongwei airline was “fully stretched” and could not serve Philippine Airlines’ cancelled flights, he added.

PAL last month reported a net loss of $14.3 million for the year ending in March. Revenue fell to $1.4 billion from $1.6 billion.

A 1998 pilots strike led the airline to suspend debt payments until PAL owner Lucio Tan added $200 million to his investment. Bloomberg, Jeremiah F. de Guzman

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