Govt bans union activity to bar protestors
In a move to stall an impending strike, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Monday enforced the Essential Services (Maintenance) Act 1952 for six months, barring protesting members of the Pakistan International Airlines 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. The law essentially restricts union activity in stateadministered sectors, including railways, postal services, telephone and affiliated services, and airports and seaports.
The aviation division had sent a summary to the prime minister which was approved Monday. Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid, talking to reporters after the enforcement of the Act, 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." Responding to a question, Rashid said flight operations will not be halted from tomorrow, adding that the government had made alternate arrangements of pilots and engineering staff to ensure that operations continue smoothly.
Rashid said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had made clear that no PIA employee will be laid off during privatisation, reiterating that the government will not tolerate strikes. Employees of the national carrier have threatened to go on strike from Tuesday, February 2, because of what they called the government's refusal to accept their main demand of calling off the organisation's privatisation plan.
PML-N Senator Mushahid ullah Khan announced on Friday that the government had postponed the privatisation of the national flag carrier for six months and requested the protesting workers to end their strike. Mushahidullah asked the joint action committee of PIA employees to withdraw its decision of the strike and resume flight operations, otherwise the government would use its authority and impose the Essential Services Act, if PIA employees did not call off their strike.
The act was also invoked by the government in January 2013 during the doctors' strike for better wages and regularisation, resulting in the sacking of young doc- tors for participating in a strike.
Soon after the PM's decision to enforce the Essential Services Act was announced, Chief of Joint Action Committee of PIA's protesting employees Capt Sohail Baloch told journalists that the body will go ahead with the strike they had announced earlier. "We are going to go ahead with our plan. I don't know what the restrictions are... but if there are any restrictions we are ready to face them, even if we are baton-charged," he said. "The government has till 7am tomorrow for negotiations, after that we will go on strike," he said.
Represen ta tives of PIA employees announced on Sunday they would continue their strike and reiterated their threat to bring all flight operations to a halt from Tuesday (Feb 2). Announcing the decision at the PIA head office, the chief of Joint Action Com mittee of PIA Employees (JACPIAE), Baloch said the government had not accepted the workers' demand of scrapping the privatisation plan. He said that if the government did not call off the plan by Monday all flight operations would be halted from the following day. He claimed that the employees were united on the issue and were ready to render sacrifices to protect the national flag carrier.