ISLAMABAD - A fresh disaster looms over the crises-ridden Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) with the joining hands of airlines’ employees against one of their bosses who had opposed salaries’ increase for PIA personnel.

An ‘emergency’ meeting of JACPIAE, a joint body of the PIA unions/associations, was held on Wednesday on one-point agenda, demanding reconstitution of the PIA Board of Directors (BoD), the airline’s highest decision making forum.

“The Joint Action Committee of Pakistan International Airlines’ Employees (JACPIAE) has demanded restructuring of PIA Board as one of its members has tried to discredit employees and management in public for something which was recommended by the HR Committee of which he was a member himself,” a statement issued after the meeting said.

The move surfaced against the backdrop of a letter written to the Chairman BoD Asif Yasin Malik by Husain Lawai, a Board member, against the pay raise given to PIA employees of certain cadres. Lawai, in the said letter, had accused PIA management of bypassing BoD and Human Resource (HR) Committee to grant the employees what he termed as ‘unprecedented’ salaries’ increase in the wake of heavy financial losses the airline suffers from.

“The JACPIAE strongly opposed the suggestion of Husain Lawai against the proposed increase of salary of the PIA employees, terming it an act of hatred against poor labours of the airline who have not got any salary increase for quite some years making it really difficult for them to survive in this inflationary period,” the statement added.

Lawai was called at his personal cell on Wednesday evening for his comments on the issue but his mobile phone was found switched off till late night.

The PIA spokesman and General Manager Public Relations Mashhood Tajwar, when contacted, expressed inability to comment on the matter right away. “This is a very sensitive issue because it involves BoD. I can’t say anything right now but we’ll release our official version in the coming days,” he told The Nation. “Although, no procedural violation has been committed by the PIA Board but we’ll issue our detailed version after going through all the aspects,” the spokesman added.

In his letter to the chairman PIA, Husain Lawai had criticised the salaries’ increase to the PIA employees in the wake of a loss of Rs30 billion the PIA suffered annually. The Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the Cabinet on Tuesday had approved a bailout package of Rs 50 billion for PIA in a bid to pull the cash-starved airline out of the financial crisis.

“The said letter is an attempt to sabotage the rightful dues of employees just ahead of the ECC meeting to consider a huge bailout package for PIA on Tuesday,” the JACPIAE statement added.

The PIA employees, it contended, are not to be held responsible for the losses. “The losses accumulated during last few years are not because of employees but managements who were suppose to be checked by the subsequent boards,” it said.

“A rich banker doesn’t know how poor employees are making both ends meet at the time when inflation has really played havoc on every section of the society, he didn’t spare them as it served his objective at this crucial time”, the media release impliedly referred to Husain Lawai who is a banker by profession and heads Summit Bank.

Coming down hard on the PIA BoD members, the JACPIAE said, the members of the Board have witnessed during past few years the financial and deliberate operational deterioration of the airline but never objected to ever increasing losses and debt. The said member never bothered to highlight the same when previous management admitted losing Rs 200 crore (Rs2 billion) in a fuel hedging deal.

The Nation on January 18th had reported that PIA employees and officers’ unions had communicated to the management to take steps for getting their salaries increased or “be ready for consequences otherwise.” Sensing backlash, Asif Yasin Malik had invited all associations and CBAs (collective bargaining agents) of the state-run airline to negotiate with the management on their Charter of Demands.

In an internal announcement made on February 9, PIA management had informed its personnel about the much-awaited salaries increase, the first in ten years, with effect from January 1, 2013.  This newspaper on February 10 had reported that a meeting of PIA BoD was scheduled on February 18 to approve this decision. However, citing deteriorating law and order situation, the Board postponed its February 18 meeting, as unearthed in this newspaper on February 19. The PIA personnel will have to wait for the new salaries till the BoD meeting to approve their revived salary packages.

As per two-year agreement between the PIA personnel and the management, the salary packages are to be revised after December 31, 2014. The association for officers above group 5, Society of Aircraft Engineers of Pakistan (SAEP), Aircraft Technologists Association of Pakistan (ATAP), Flight Engineers National Association (FENA) and Pakistan Airline Pilots’ Association (PALPA) have got significant pay raises. The ATAP has been given 25 per cent cumulative increase, the ground engineers get 55 per cent, flight engineers 75 per cent and the pilots have been given 16 per cent cumulative increase for a two-year period.