THE impasse between the management of the country’s flag carrier, Philippine Airlines (PAL), and its workers continues as the government-mediated dialogue ended in a deadlock last night.

Amid the dispute, local aviation school operators confirm that higher pay abroad drives many pilots to leave the country.

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“Many airlines, especially in Hong Kong, Indonesia and Malaysia, are continually looking for pilots, and with a meager compensation here in the country, our Filipino pilots go out there to seek greener pastures,” said Nerio Giangan of Mactan-Cebu Aero Flying Center.

Capt. Stephen Turing of Indiana Aerospace University said the pay abroad is significantly higher than local rates, but there are pilots who still choose to work in the Philippines.

“Brain drain” occurs when skilled workers and professionals—including airline pilots—in a poor country like the Philippines leave the country for jobs abroad that offer better pay and working conditions.

Turing said pilots go out of the country not only for the money but also because they want to work on the big jets. Their motivation is the challenge to work on bigger and more complex planes.

Labor conditions in the local aviation industry are being questioned after more than a dozen pilots for PAL did not show up at the airport last Saturday, leading to flight cancellations and delays.

According to a statement by PAL, the pilots had “indiscriminately resigned” from their jobs in exchange for higher salary offers abroad.

Giangan, who has classmates from aviation schools and friends working for PAL, said, “It is true that PAL offers low salaries, and this has been the case for a long time already.”

He said rival Cebu Pacific Air is not experiencing the same problem.

PAL president Jaime Bautista, in a report, said startup airlines offer better pay because they don’t have to train the pilots. PAL training costs P10 million from the start until the pilots become captains, which startup airlines don’t spend for.

He said accredited PAL pilots have an estimated P100,000 monthly basic pay, with an average productivity pay of P250,000. He said pilots could earn as much as P500,000 a month, including benefits.

Despite this, for years, PAL has seen its pilots leave for work abroad, especially for airlines in the Middle East.

From nine pilots in 2003, 15 resigned in 2006, but Bautista said the number dropped in 2007.

Subsidies

Government subsidies give foreign airlines an edge, as is the case with pilots in foreign airlines, who receive their salary in full because of subsidies. Pilots in local airlines, on the other hand, get a tax cut of 32 percent from their salary.

Giangan said even in aviation schools, local student pilots are declining in number because of the higher tuition, but foreign pilots who get subsidies from their countries are growing in number here in the country.

The Philippines is number one in aviation training, and this entices foreigners to come here to study, Giangan said.

Students from all over the world, like those from the Middle East, Syria, Nepal, Indonesia, China and Malaysia come to the country to train, he added.

Impasse

Coming out from last night’s meeting, Department of Transportation and Communications Secretary Ping De Jesus said they have to meet with other pilots to know their issues and concerns against PAL.

De Jesus, together with the secretaries of the Departments of Labor and Employment and Justice, conducted separate meetings with PAL officials and pilot representatives yesterday.

“What we have agreed on is that we will meet with the other pilots on Tuesday, and we will arrange a dialogue between the contesting parties,” he said, adding that PAL vowed to publish new flight schedules to minimize the inconvenience to the public regarding flight cancellation.

He disclosed that PAL is willing to hire back its pilots without any sanctions.

“They are trying to invite them back. Some of them have left the country; some of them are still here,” he said.

Government pilots

De Jesus also denied they are planning to tap the services of government pilots, promising to resolve the issue in a week.

Several flight attendants of PAL are also planning to conduct a massive strike.

A labor group asked President Benigno Aquino III to understand the plight of the pilots. “He should not confine himself to the alleged disruptive effects on the country’s tourism and economy of what happened. Obviously, it’s the livelihood of PAL employees that is on the line here,” said Elmer Labog, chairperson of Kilusang Mayo Uno. (Sunnex)