KARACHI - Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Tuesday said that protesting employees of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) will be fired from service and can be sent to jail for a year.

Talking to reporters during his visit to a coal power plant in Sahiwal, he said that airline employees working during the strike will be given special rewards for their service.

Nawaz accused PIA workers of politicising the privatisation issue by resorting to strikes, adding that such acts were costing PIA Rs 100 million per day.

In a move to stall the strike, Nawaz had already enforced the Essential Services (Maintenance) Act 1952 for six months, barring protesting members of the PIA from participating in any union activity.

“Any person found guilty of an offence under this Act shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year and shall also be liable to a fine,” the legislation reads.

Earlier in the day, three protesters died after sustaining bullet wounds when law enforcing agencies tried to disperse protesting PIA employees at Karachi Airport’s Jinnah Terminal.

As news of the deaths of PIA employees spread, the national flag carrier’s flight operations across the country began shutting down in solidarity with protesters, officials said.

Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid had also made clear that strict action will be taken against protesting employees.

“Let me make clear that those who continue the strike will be treated as enemies of PIA and Pakistan and they will end up losing their jobs,” he stressed.

Employees of the national carrier had threatened to go on a strike from Tuesday because of what they called the government’s refusal to accept their main demand of calling off the organisation’s privatisation plan.