"Waste of Time": PAL officials, pilots meet doesn’t take off

PHILIPPINE AIRLINES (PAL) management has snubbed a meeting with a group of pilots organized by Malacañang, aimed at resolving the shortage of crewmen to fly the company’s workhorse Airbus A320 aircraft.

PAL president Jaime J. Bautista said it would be a “waste of time” to meet with the group claiming to represent the resigned pilots.

“The pilots who resigned have left the country already and the group that met with government [officials Tuesday night], they are not our pilots,” he said.

Bautista told the Inquirer that “PAL pilots don’t have a labor union.”

Malacañang was supposed to meet with the airline’s management and the 25 pilots who recently resigned to finally meet face-to-face on Wednesday so both sides could resolve problems that led to a number of flight cancellations since last weekend.

The Palace has ruled out a takeover of PAL, citing the state’s own financial and technical limitations.

The lack of pilots has forced PAL to scrap three flights daily to as many destinations. Passengers booked on the cancelled flights are to be assigned to other flights within the same day of their original schedule.

Transportation Secretary Jose de Jesus met with PAL management, led by chair Lucio Tan on Monday and with the pilots contingent, led by the Association of Airline Pilots in the Philippines (Alpap), the day after.

Five-man team

The five-man team that claimed to represent the pilots included retired airmen and retired PAL pilots.

Bautista said the company would only be willing to meet with the actual pilots who resigned. “Otherwise, it would be a waste of time,” he said.

Alpap, composed of Filipino pilots working in the country and abroad, said it had been approached by most of the 25 resigned pilots themselves. But the 25 have all left the country already, Elmer Peña, Alpap president, said.

“We have been talking to the government and we are willing to meet with PAL,” said Peña. Alpap used to be a PAL labor union before being booted out a decade ago.

Closest thing

He said Alpap was the closest thing that the pilots had to an organized representative because PAL, following the 1998 strike, had barred its pilots from forming labor unions. Both PAL’s ground employees and flight attendants are represented by unions.

“It’s easier for PAL to not be talking to a labor union because that way, it can impose its will on its pilots,” Peña said.

The 13 captains and 12 first officers who recently resigned one after the other were reportedly lured by higher-paying jobs abroad.

Poor conditions

Alpap, however, said the pilots resigned due to poor working conditions. It said pilots feared for their own jobs after several of their colleagues were forced to work for PAL sister company Air Philippines, the group’s answer to the dominance of Gokongwei-led Cebu Pacific.

Air Philippines pilots were allegedly given lower salaries.

The pilots who left PAL were said to have stopped reporting for work immediately after filing their resignation letters.

The move is in violation of the law-mandated six-month notice for pilots who plan to resign.

The rule is meant to give companies more time to train replacements for the pilots, who are considered to be doing “mission critical” tasks.

PAL earlier rejected the resignations and ordered the pilots to return to work or face criminal and administrative charges. It later said that it would not file charges against pilots who return to help PAL operations return to normal.

Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda told reporters on Wednesday that the talks were continuing, but appeared to douse hopes of an immediate breakthrough.

“We cannot guarantee that it would be resolved this week,” he said.

Other issues

“We thought it was just a simple case of higher wages luring pilots to seek jobs elsewhere,” Lacierda said.

But he said the pilots’ union had since brought out more complaints against the management.

Lacierda said Malacañang was not ready to take a more active role in resolving the dispute and would rather watch things unfold in separate talks conducted by Palace officials with PAL management and the pilots.

PAL has been beset by growing labor unrest for months with ground crews and flight attendants also threatening strikes.

The airline may post a loss in its current fiscal year because of pilot trouble that led to flight cancellations, its listed parent said.

PAL had said it expected to return to profitability in the 12 months to March 2011 after posting a net loss of $14.3 million in its previous fiscal year.

“We wish to confirm that (PAL) may have to revise its targets ... because the cancellation of several flights have indeed affected the revenue of PAL,” PAL Holdings said in a statement. With reports from Cathy Yamsuan and AFP

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