LAHORE - Union leaders yesterday threatened to widen their protests against government plans to privatise state-owned electricity and steel companies as PIA workers announced they will strike again Wednesday (today).
Airline staff demonstrated outside PIA offices nationwide for three hours yesterday and their action is set to continue today as opposition to privatisation spreads throughout the nationalised sector.
One flight from Karachi to Lahore was delayed yesterday as pilots joined PIA office workers to show their support.
The government is planning to sell off a 26 per cent stake in the national carrier and hand over management control to the buyer to meet International Monetary Fund conditions for a bail-out loan. PIA’s cumulative losses were $2.2 billion as of last June and the government has to inject Rs12 billion to Rs15 billion annually to keep the airline alive.
Mehmood Bokhari, Secretary General of Air League of PIA employees, however said the national carrier is just one of the government’s targets for privatisation and that staff in all of them will resist its plans.
“The government is trying to privatise 68 departments of the country and PIA, Lesco and Pakistan Steel Mills are its top priority,” he said.
Thousands of workers will be jobless but those in the firing line are joining PIA staff to launch a wider movement, he warned.
President Peoples Unity and Executive member of JACCPIA Sajid Gujjar said: “It is a good omen that airlines senior officers have joined us and they are also outside their offices during strike hours.”
Pakistan Airlines Pilots Association (PALPA) president Amir Hashmi said his union supports the office workers but will not refuse to fly “until and unless JACPIA demands so” If it does, PIA would be paralysed and the airline would make further losses.
PIA, one of the world’s leading airlines until the 1970s, now suffers from frequent cancellations and delays and has been involved in numerous controversies over the years, including the jailing of a drunk pilot in Britain in 2013.
PIA spokesman Danyal Gillani said the airline had pleaded with staff to not cause any further losses through disruptive protests. “We have requested protesting employees not to disturb flight schedule and airline management was also trying its best that flights are not disturbed,” he said.
There were also protests at the Lesco head office where they denounced plans to privatise their company.
The protests do not have unanimous support among workers. The Jamaat-e-Islami- backed National Labour Federation has recently called on unions to unite their campaigns but received a lukewarm response.
The leading labour union of power sector—the Wapda Hydroelectric Union (CBA)—has rejected protests and its leader Khursheed Ahmed has opened negotiations with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Some union leaders claim that Hydroelectric Union has surrendered before the government in exchange of for “benefits.”
Khursheed Ahmed rejected the claim: “We are just holding dialogue with the government, not supporting the privatization,” he told The Nation.
He said the Hydroelectric Union had forwarded recommendations to the government to bring reforms in the power sector.