LAHORE - PIA workers will shut down airline offices today to protest government’s privatisation plans while union leaders have warned they will also halt flights if their protests are curbed.

Their protest plans were disclosed at Lahore’s Alama Iqbal International Airport yesterday when leaders of the Joint Action Committee – PIA union - vowed to resist the privatisation plan to get underway.

The federal government is planning to sell off a 26 per cent stake in PIA and cede management control to the buyer to meet International Monetary Fund conditions to refinance the ailing national carrier. The plans have been strongly rejected by opposition parties in the National Assembly amid fears that many of its more than 18,000 staff could lose their jobs in cut-backs.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Finance Minister Ishaq Dar have promised to safeguard all jobs, but the carrier’s unions remain unconvinced.

Union leaders yesterday warned a rally of more than 300 staff members that the privatisation would take food away from their family table and pledged they would force the government to back down.

Decision of strike was taken in a meeting of Joint Action Committee of PIA (JACPIA) held at PIA head office on Monday.

Angry protesters carrying placards and banners inscribed with slogans ‘No to Privatisation’ and ‘Go Dar Go’, also chanted slogans against PIA management and rulers especially Finance Minister Ishaq Dar.

Speaking on the occasion, president of People’s Unity of PIA employees and executive member of JACPIA Sajid Guajr said that privatisation of airline will amount to snatching bread from employees children. “We will never let the government do so,” he pledged.

Secretary General of Air League of PIA employees (an association backed by ruling party), Mehmood Bokhari demanded the prime minister to clarify his stance over the issue in Parliament and on media as well.

Aslam Ranjha an engineer and member of Society of Aircraft Engineering of Pakistan (SEAP) said, “Protest against privatisation is our democratic right and if government tried to stop it through undemocratic ways, we will suspend even the flight operation”.

Muhammad Navid Ch Coordinator to Co-Chairman PPP Asif Ali Zardari said they had differences with rulers over the way they were going to privatise PIA.

Finance Minister Senator Mohammad Ishaq Dar said couple of days back that promulgation of PIA Corporatisation Ordinance would not alter rights of employees anyway and it aimed at granting autonomy to the PIA for taking decisions on professional lines instead of looking towards government on every issue.

After protest, a rally was also taken out from PIA Complex to the entry of Lahore airport where charged protesters also burnt the effigy of Finance Minister Ishaq Dar.