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National

February 10, 2016

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PPP role in PIA strike stiffens govt stand

Shujaat Azeem’s unofficial advice still carries weight; he reduced PIA losses from Rs44 bn in 2013 to Rs19 bn in 2015

ISLAMABAD: Even after getting verifiable information that top PPP leaders played a pivotal role in instigating and propagating the PIA strike to damage the PML-N government, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his close aides remained firm not to seek political help from the opposition party in the worst case scenario. Instead they remained focused to resolve the crisis through administrative cum political steps and establish writ of the government. The same approach will be adopted while taking Senate and National Assembly (NA) into confidence on PIA’s state of affairs as government benches expect severe opposition criticism on the issue. Instead, the government will try to handle the issue through debate on the foras of Senate and NA committees, avoid and oppose calls for formation of some special committee on the issue.

By Tuesday strike by PIA‘s joint action committee was called off as the background channel worked and strike leader told media that he would be travelling to Lahore soon to meet the Punjab Chief Minister. Prior to this announcement the government  high-ups were sure that they would be able to quell the strike completely within two to three days, and tread a fast forward approach towards management handover of the airliner in near future.Although the strikers were staying put till Tuesday evening even minutes before the announcement to end the week long strike, the number of employees leaving their camps and joining service at PIA offices across the country was alarming even by their own standards. It was this change of situation on the ground that compelled the union leaders to tone down lately and call off the strike to reengage in talks through a changed team headed by Punjab Chief MinisterShahbaz Sharif. Infact the union leaders, having seen resolve of the federal government not budge on the issue, were advised by their sympathizers to adopt the new strategy. And it worked for both sides for now as the agitators are expected to gain very little from the changed situation.

Coming up with a second national airliner through transfer of some PIA assets, a completely new fleet of aircraft through an independent management is also on the cards, government sources said.The two airlines, officials viewed, if formed could run side by side as separate entities ass being seen in other countries of the world.  Though the premier had actually given 6-12 months period to PIA unions in a meeting on December 14 to streamline the affairs before a final decision to hand over management and privatization, the circumstances at hand seem to have compelled the government decision makers to review and shorten the time line. The fate of employees who have so far refused to join offices under the Essential Services Act will be decided the on Prime Minister’s return from upcoming foreign visit, though some influential voices have advised the high ups to be compassionate in this regard.  “The strike is a failure now. We want every employee to return to work but those still instigating and violating law of the land, will be dealt with severly, ” Senator Mushahidullah Khan, a close unofficial aide to Prime Minister and former union leader in PIA, told The News earlier on Tuesday .  The strike that started with full throttle of February 2, has till date cost Rs 4.5- 5 billion loss to the airline, at an average Rs 500 million per day, officials say. Interestingly, PIA’s sales touched a record Rs 8.9 billion for the month of January from Rs 8.5 billion in December 2015 before the current strike hit it badly. As of now, PIA’s total liabilities stand at Rs 300 billion, and Rs 3.5 billion per month is needed to service legacy loans and their interest payments, official figures state.

Earlier as cracks start appearing in the strikers’ camp Sunday till Tuesday, the PIA management claimedits domestic and international flights schedule has achieved a full operational status by Tuesday night as soon as the strike was called off. The government was meanwhile actively reviewing options regarding fate the state run airliner. Though barred by the top court to function in his official capacity as Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Mr Shujaat Azeem is advising the Premier in unofficial capacity. Having reduced losses of the airline from the whopping Rs 44 billion in year 2013 to Rs 19 billion in 2015 owing to his expertise and skill as an experienced aviator through a small team of professionals, Mr Azeem’s unofficial advice still carries most weightage in the aviation division and PM house. During his tenure as head of the civil aviation division, PIA’s fleet rose from an all-time low of 18 planes in 2013 to the current figure of 38. It was during this period that the airline got a 84 per cent on time departure figure for planes in year 2015, compared to 69 per cent in 2013.

Meanwhile, the other consideration behind adopting a somewhat non-political approach in dealing with PIA crisis throughout the last week was suspicion on the part of government that MQM and PPP having uneasy, and at times, tense relation with Rangers in Karachi were trying to malign the paramilitary force in mysterious killings of the two PIA workers in Karachi during strike related procession a few days back. The MQM and PPP wanted to play political cards to malign the PML-N government and settle their score with Sindh Rangers who have since the last two years earned ire of the two parties by conducting an across the board law and order operation against militants allegedly linked to the two main political entities of the Sindh province. “The way fingers were immediately pointed towards Sindh Rangers immediately after the killings of two workers, suggests the whole episode was pre-planned.” “Though investigations are underway, but it is highly likely that some criminal elements with political patronage have carried out the cold blood murders of the two deceased employees of the airliner,” a close unofficial aide to the premier said. “The government has evidence of direct links between PPP leaders in Sindh and the PIA union leaders in run up to the current strike and events that followed,” an official said, adding “Mr Hadayatullah, PPP backed PIA union leader, who along with three men were mysteriously abducted a few days back and have now been released, is a known close aide of Syed Khurshid Shah, National Assembly Opposition Leader. The PPP union leader was being instructed by some PPP Sindh government elements during this period.”The PPP and MQM, on the other hand, support a vibrant union system in such state run entities, and oppose privatization, downsizing and re-trenchment of the employees.

Meanwhile, during its 2008 to May 2013 PPP government 3736 employees were recruited in PIA, dangerously surging employee to aircraft ratio 675 in uptill 2013. The same has been reduced to a much reasonable figure of 390 employees per aircraft by 2015.

According to official figures, number of PIA employees stood at 16,563 in June 2013. Since then the number of employees has been reduced by 2403 due to retirement, dismissals, termination of contract etc. Around 302 fake degree holders have been removed from service.During this period, PIA hired 507 technicians, who had done three-year apprenticeship at PIA Training Center, against existing vacancies, and 104 other officials were recruited to meet the bare minimum requirements of the airline at an average of around 40 officials per year. Currently the number of PIA employees is 14,771.

 

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