Islamabad [Pakistan], January 1 (ANI): With Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) implementing its decision to cut the existing workforce by half and shift the head office of the national carrier from Karachi to Islamabad by January end but the current and former officials view the entire development as a move to sack the maximum number of staffers particularly those living in Sindh and Balochistan.
Despite the fact that PIA requires the Parliament's approval for relocation. But the employees are considering the decision as politically motivated by the Imran Khan government. This is quite obvious when even the country's premier spy agency is being used as a tool to silence dissenting voices.
Employees say that the management had transferred around 800 employees of all groups to Islamabad from Karachi and, therefore, most of Sindhi and Urdu-speaking employees opted for the Voluntarily Separation Scheme (VSS) instead of going to a city that was far more expensive than Karachi, as reported by Dawn.
PIA's CEO Retired Air Marshal Arshad Malik, who is backed by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government, has so far sacked over 900 people on disciplinary grounds because of their alleged involvement in corruption, fake degrees and other charges.
Meanwhile, PIA Officers Association's general secretary Safdar Anjum claimed that the only reason behind the relocation decision was that Air Marshal Malik and his coterie of advisers, whom he brought from the Pakistan Air Force on deputation, had houses and families in Islamabad.
"Whatever his intentions are, one thing is clear that his anti-workers steps are making Prime Minister Imran Khan and PTI highly unpopular," observed a senior PIA official.
According to Dawn, the PIA is moving forward with the plan to cut the existing workforce by half and shift the head office of the national flag carrier from Karachi to Islamabad by the end of January despite it requiring the Parliament's approval to do so.
Representatives of employees, officers, pilots and engineers suggest that none of them was taken on board by the management before and after deciding to shift the head office as well as the airline's hub to Islamabad from Karachi and added that the management could not shift the head office without approval from the parliament that has to amend the Pakistan International Airlines Corporation (PIAC) (Conversion) Act, 2016.
Section 7 (2) of the PIAC Act reads: "The Headquarters of the Company and any of its subsidiary companies carrying on air-transport business shall be at Karachi."
"There is not a single valid reason to justify shifting of either the head office or airline's hub from Karachi to Islamabad," said PIA Officers Association's general secretary Safdar Anjum as quoted by Dawn, who spoke against the management led by retired Air Marshal Arshad Malik (the CEO).
"Karachi is a unique place where an entire organisational network of PIA is situated within an area of two-three kilometres. It has the Ispahani Hangar, complete engineering system. Is it wise to close down the hangar, outsource several other works and give engineering to PAF just to relocate the head office to Islamabad?" he asked.
PIA management has rejected all the allegations and termed it as politically motivated.
"PIA is shifting its operational and support offices to Islamabad because of the inherent shift in travelling demographics. Previously, majority of PIA's traffic originated from Karachi being the trade centre and largest city of the country but now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and adjoining areas contribute the majority of the labour in Gulf countries and northeastern GT Road adjacent areas and AJK contribute maximum traffic to Europe, the UK and the Far East," said PIA spokesperson Abdullah Hafeez Khan, as quoted by Dawn.
"So it's very natural that PIA, in order to target this segment, has to increase its presence in the north. With increased operations, the manpower requirement has also increased. It is now not possible to keep the workforce centralised in Karachi while running operations from the north," he added.
Moreover, the decision has political implications, as Pakistan Peoples' Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari vowed to include PIA workers in the opposition's anti-government campaign. The PPP-backed Peoples Unity is the CBA (Collective Bargaining Agent) in PIA but many of its opponents allege that the CBA is not doing what it was supposed to do i.e. to safeguard the interest of workers and instead its leaders have been showered with favours by the incumbent management.
The Air League, a workers' body associated with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, termed the relocation of head office to Islamabad an "undemocratic and anti-people".
Another far-reaching consequence of the shifting of the head office would be that locals will be affected, Pakistan Air Line Pilots Association (Palpa) said that locals would lose jobs as most employees were unable to move out of Karachi.
Dawn further reported that the PIA presently has 14,500 employees and earlier in December, it introduced a Voluntarily Separation Scheme (VSS) with a target of laying off 3,500 workers.
"Employees have been put under tremendous stress by posting them out to Islamabad" at the shortest possible notice so that they could avail VSS," a Palpa spokesperson said. Mr Anjum of Officers Association and Palpa spokesperson say VSS was not a new scheme as it was offered twice during different administrations.
"No one can object to a retirement scheme as long as it remains voluntary," said Mr Anjum, adding: "But the VSS is not voluntary as employees are being harassed and intimidated."
"An atmosphere of fear and dreadfulness has been created so that employees opt out in the fear of aftermath of VSS; this includes selective leakages of documents, Mandatory Separation Scheme, forced transfers, shifting of head office, downgrading basic rights and benefits, and so-called performance-based profiling, leading to the firing of employees," the Palpa spokesperson said. (ANI)