The discussion in the Senate today regarding the Pakistan International Airline (PIA) lay-offs must not prioritise politics over the fate of the airline and the losses it causes the national exchequer. There will likely be the usual blame-game and trading barbs between the government and opposition over the issue. But given that most major political parties, at one point or another, have admitted to the necessity behind the incoming redundancies it is hoped that the state does not give in to pressure to force the management of the national carrier to rethink firing non-essential employees.

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) has taken the tried (and failed) route of looking to resurrect the dying airline instead of privatising it as their predecessors in the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government did. This is a bold step and contrary to the ruling party’s principle of austerity in government spending. On the back of an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout, the task to turn a profit – or at least prevent exorbitant losses – is a herculean one. The government has so far done little in the way of achieving this – plans to put new planes into service and changing the top leadership at the helm of the management team have all been attempted by previous governments as well.

The only thing that has set this new revitalisation apart from previous attempts is the announcement of imminent lay-offs. This is the only way for the airline to reduce its costs and in turn, reduce the burden on the national kitty. Even amidst the commitment to release a thousand employees from the payroll, the management team asked the government for an additional Rs10 billion to meet its costs. What this tells us is that this redundancy process is only the start in a long uphill battle to make the airline a viable business entity again.

The government now has a little less than four years left to transform PIA, to enable it to inject money into state coffers, instead of bleeding them dry. Hesitating on firing non-essential employees will almost certainly deal a fatal blow to plans of making the airline a national asset. Every time the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) has taken the decision to clean up its employee list, political concerns and fears of losing voters by reducing jobs has led to government’s failing to do the necessary. It can only be hoped that this government shows more determination on this occasion.