PIA pri­va­ti­za­tion

The Pak Banker - - EDITORIAL -

IT is un­for­tu­nate that the pri­va­ti­za­tion of PIA has be­come a con­tro­ver­sial is­sue. The mat­ter has been hang­ing fire for more than a year now but the au­thor­i­ties did not fore­see the cri­sis build­ing up. Ne­go­ti­a­tions came to a stop a few weeks ago, with the em­ploy­ees warn­ing of strik­ing work in sup­port of their de­mands. But the govern­ment did not re­spond un­til the ex­plo­sion last week which brought PIA flights to a stop. In­for­ma­tion min­is­ter Per­vaiz Rashid added fuel to the fire with his state­ment that the "wings of the strik­ing work­ers will be clipped". The sit­u­a­tion was fur­ther ex­ac­er­bated when PM Nawaz Sharif an­nounced that the strik­ing work­ers would be sacked and sent to jail. Next day two PIA em­ploy­ees were killed in a case of mys­te­ri­ous fir­ing which is still be­ing in­ves­ti­gated.

Ques­tions have been raised about why Rangers who are in Karachi to com­bat ter­ror­ism were de­ployed to tackle what is ba­si­cally a trade union dis­pute. As pointed out by neu­tral ob­servers, the govern­ment has adopted a com­pletely il­log­i­cal and im­prac­ti­cal ap­proach in deal­ing with PIA, the na­tional flag car­rier. To ex­pect that em­ploy­ees feel­ing in­se­cure about their jobs will not re­act or to think that in­vok­ing the Es­sen­tial Ser­vices Act will force them to back off from their strike call was a grave mis­take. The crit­ics blame the govern­ment for car­ry­ing out PIA's pri­va­ti­za­tion in a hap­haz­ard man­ner with­out do­ing proper home­work. Pri­vati­sa­tion is a sen­si­tive is­sue through­out the world as trade unions take it as a move by the cap­i­tal­ists to mo­nop­o­lise the econ­omy and de­prive the work­ers of their due rights. Given the sen­si­tiv­ity of the is­sue, the govern­ment should have opened talks with the trade unions long be­fore the launch of the process to ad­dress their con­cerns.

What are the mer­its of the PIA pri­va­ti­za­tion move? The of­fi­cial point of view is that PIA is in­cur­ring huge, un­sus­tain­able losses. This is true. But, con­trary to of­fi­cial pro­pa­ganda, over-staffing is not the prime cause of the losses. There is a long and sor­did his­tory of political in­ter­fer­ence in PIA's affairs and bad man­age­ment im­posed on the air­line by suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments. PPP dur­ing its five-year term made thou­sands of political ap­point­ments, while in the last two years PML-N govern­ment has done the same. What is worse, while the over­head costs have risen ex­po­nen­tially, the present govern­ment has cut the reach and level of flight op­er­a­tions by leas­ing out many prof­itable routes to for­eign air­lines. This has mul­ti­plied the losses man­i­fold.

What is the way out of the im­broglio? It seems those in the govern­ment who have been talk­ing of mass sack­ing of work­ers or set­ting up a new air­line have not yet learned their les­son. This will spark a coun­try­wide protest among other labour unions some of whom have al­ready voiced sup­port for the strik­ing PIA em­ploy­ees. The so­lu­tion lies in tack­ling the ex­plo­sive sit­u­a­tion with a cool head through diplo­macy and ne­go­ti­a­tions. But, for this ap­proach to suc­ceed, the govern­ment must stop threat­en­ing the unions with dis­missals and other le­gal ac­tion. This is nec­es­sary to defuse ten­sion and bring down the tem­per­a­ture. Once the govern­ment wins the trust of the work­ers, ne­go­ti­a­tions can start to ham­mer out an agreed so­lu­tion. The em­ploy­ees will not be averse to pri­vati­sa­tion if they are as­sured of their job se­cu­rity. Al­ter­na­tively, the work­ers and the man­age­ment can agree on a for­mula to re­vive the air­line and make it a prof­itable or­ga­ni­za­tion which once it was.

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