PAL Woes Far From Over After Pilots Snub Meeting

MANILA, Philippines - The labor tiff between the management of Philippine Airlines (PAL) and a number of its pilots who resigned en masse appears far from over, after the pilots snubbed a meeting called by Malacañang aimed at resolving the dispute.

The second round of talks aimed at resolving PAL’s labor row was set at 3 p.m. Tuesday.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Transportation and Communications Secretary Jose "Ping" de Jesus, and Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda waited for hours at the offices of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC).

But the pilots who resigned over the weekend did not show up. Instead, their representatives attended the meeting to air the pilots' grievances.

They said the pilots left PAL for higher-paying jobs.

"We want them all back. We want them to serve Philippine Airlines if they still want to work with us. But if they really want to resign, we just ask them to respect the terms of our agreements, give us sufficient notice so we can train replacements, and not cancel flights because of lack of pilots," Philippine Airlines president Jaime Bautista said in an interview with ANC’s “Headstart with Karen Davila.”

Malacañang said it is trying 'moral suasion' to resolve the dispute, which has already affected the country's tourism and commerce.

"We don't know for how long this would be... [it is] up to the cabinet officials concerned and the parties involved to resolve this as soon as possible”, Lacierda said.

But the Palace is also anticipating a worst-case scenario, where it has to sanction both parties.

Transport authorities said, if no amicable settlement is reached they may re-allocate PAL’s traffic route flights and revoke the licenses of the pilots who refuse to return to work.

Since Saturday, more than 30 PAL flights have been disrupted because of the labor row.

On Tuesday, three flights to Iloilo, Bacolod, and Cagayan de Oro were rescheduled.

But PAL’s other flights have returned to normal.

The flag carrier said the pilot shortage affected only a small portion of its 160 daily trips, while international flights are not affected.

‘Takeover possible’

Malacañang will again meet with PAL management and representatives of the pilots Wednesday.

But in case PAL’s management fails to reach an agreement with its resigned pilots, Justice Secretary De Lima said government may take over the flag carrier’s operations as a last resort.

De Lima said the government hopes that PAL management and the pilots can resolve their dispute quickly, since the public is feeling the effects of their disagreement.

But De Lima warns if the two sides cannot come to terms, the government may have no choice but to take over the flag carrier.

De Lima said this could be done to protect public interest.

"'Yon na ang aking pinag-aaralan. I will be ready with my recommendations on the options that the government would have in case no amicable settlement is reached today or tomorrow. Kasi urgent itong matter na ito. It's costing a lot of inconvenience to the riding public," De Lima said.

De Lima however stressed a takeover will be the last recourse, this is since regulations can be implemented that will reign in aspects of PAL’s operations.

"So kung merong nag-breach diyan, one will have a recourse against the other," she said.

Legal experts added a government takeover need not mean that the government will inherit PAL’s billions of pesos in debt.

They said it is possible the government will only take over the management and operational details of PAL.

The PAL Employees Association (PALEA) meanwhile supports the pilots who resigned, even if they are involved in their own battle with the PAL management who recently terminated 3,000 of their members after outsourcing some of their operations.

"Reflection na ito.. tungkol sa management... [and their] treatment [towards] its workers," Alnem Pretencio, PALEA vice president, said.

As the labor disputes of PAL continue to mount, the justice department said the next few days are critical as the airline, Asia’s oldest, tries to solve its latest problem that has forced the government to intervene.

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