Palace meetings fail to resolve PAL row

More dialogues to be held; carrier cuts cancellations

MALACAÑANG mediation yesterday failed to resolve a labor row between Philippine Airlines (PAL) management and some of its pilots, with officials announcing the staging of further dialogues aimed at ending three days of flight disruptions.

The Lucio Tan-led carrier promised it would do its best to keep its planes flying, and said only two domestic flights had been cancelled yesterday, down from Saturday’s 11 -- which included an international route -- and Sunday’s eight local trips.

Emerging from meetings at the Palace, Transportation Secretary Jose P. de Jesus said both parties remained open to resolving the problem, which stemmed from the resignations of 25 PAL pilots said to have been pirated by foreign carriers.

"It is still a work in progress. We will meet with the other pilots tomorrow after which we will arrange a dialogue with the two groups," Mr. de Jesus said.

"What I can say is that to minimize the inconvenience to the public, PAL has promised to publish, as they have started to publish, a new schedule of flights. [They will] merge flights ... As long as the passengers know in advance, they will know how to book their flights," he added.

PAL President and Chief Operating Officer Jaime J. Bautista said in telephone interview after the meeting that the airline would be trimming its flights until the issue was resolved. He again warned of legal action against the resigned pilots and said their new employers could be also be sued.

"If the pilots will still not heed our request [to return], we would file charges, perhaps breach of contract. We are also studying the possibility of filing charges against the airlines that hired them," Mr. Bautista said.

PAL claims the pilots did should have given 180 days’ notice before leaving, time the airline would use to train replacements.

Also present at yesterday’s meeting were Justice Secretary Leila N. de Lima, Labor Secretary Rosalinda D. Baldoz, Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines director-general Alfonso G. Cusi, Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Jose Amor M. Amorado, Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda and Cebu Pacific Air, Inc. President and Chief Executive Officer Lance Y. Gokongwei. Officials also met separately with Elmer F. Pena, president of the Airline Pilots Association of the Philippines, and a PAL pilot identified as Capt. Ismael Lapus Jr.

Palace officials on Sunday said the issue of pilots being pirated by foreign airlines was not limited to PAL but Cebu Pacific yesterday claimed its pilot pool remained "generally happy."

"Opportunities abroad are always there... However, if they (pilots) decided to leave us, they will have to undergo the process of notifying us 90 days beforehand," said Candice A. Iyog, the airline’s vice-president for marketing and distribution.

She said Cebu Pacific lost two pilots this year, but claimed they left not because of compensation issues.

PAL has said nine pilots resigned in 2003, 22 in 2004, 29 in 2005 and 15 in 2006.

The flag carrier, which is already facing a strike threat over a plan to outsource "non-core" services, was criticized anew yesterday by a flight attendants’ union currently negotiating a new benefits package.

The Flight Attendants’ and Stewards’ Association of the Philippines claimed "Many flight attendants have also been transferring to other foreign airlines, citing lack of security of tenure and the labor problems of PAL."

In addition to the pilot resignation issue, the Labor department is scheduled next week to meet with the PAL Employees Association to discuss the airline’s outsourcing plans, expected to lead to the retrenchment of nearly 3,000 workers.

The carrier last month announced a narrower loss for its fiscal year that ended in March, to $14.3 million from the previous year’s $297.8 million, but warned of still weak demand for international flights. -- from reports by A. M. G. Roa and A. M. P. Dagcutan

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