MANILA -- Employees of the beleaguered flag carrier, Philippine Airlines (PAL), threatened to stage a strike if the management insists on outsourcing 2,600 workers.

Philippine Airlines Employees Association (Palea) president Bong Palad said the planned outsourcing would result in the layoff of 2,600 employees from baggage handling, ticketing, and servicing, among others.

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These numbers are enough to paralyze the airline operations if the strike will push through, Palad added.

The Palea union is also set to meet with Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz on August 12 to discuss the previous decision released by then Department of Labor and Employment (Dole) office-in-charge Romeo Lagman, who issued the order legalizing contractualization.

Article 248 of the Labor Code states that "it shall be unlawful for any employer to contract out services or functions being performed by union members when such will interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of their rights to self-organization."

In the contractualization set-up, the 2,600 employees of the airline company are transferred to the sourcing company, wherein they will still be required to undergo training, opening the chances for them to fail and lose their jobs.

The Palea president who has rendered 30 years of service to the company is just one of those threatened to do contractual work.

Palad further explained that contractualization results to union busting and refusal for a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) negotiation that was halted 10 years ago.

The CBA negotiations, which include discussions on salary increases of Flight Attendants and Stewards Association of the Philippines (Fasap) and the PAL management, only expired three years ago.

The Fasap union earlier threatened to stage a strike after PAL implemented unfair labor practices like lowering the retirement age to 40.

Two weeks ago, 25 of PAL’s pilots resigned from their posts to seek better opportunities abroad.

"Imagine yung 25 na pilots kusang umalis pinipigilan ng gobyerno pero kaming 2,600 pinagtatabuyan ni Mr. Tan, hindi kami pinapansin? (The government is intervening on the issue of the 25 pilots who voluntarily left but the government has overlooked the 2,600 employees threatened to lose their jobs)" Palad said.

Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) Representative Raymond Mendoza, meanwhile, expressed full support to the labor woes, saying a privatized company like PAL should be reminded it has social responsibility that includes fair labor practices.

PAL offers settlement

The PAL management can only offer a “one-time” P80-million package to its disgruntled flight attendants and stewards as the company is still battling fiscal woes.

PAL president and chief operating officer Jaime Bautista said the offer was for the CBA set from 2005-2010.

“We hope Fasap members will understand PAL’s predicament and accept the offer. While we recognize their desire for higher compensation, PAL’s current financial situation will not allow it offer more,” he said.

The offer was made at the resumption of CBA talks between PAL management and officers of Fasap at the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB).

Bautista said it is up to Fasap to determine how it will divide the P80-million among its 1,600 members.

But the Palea president said PAL’s claim that it is under a problematic financial situation is merely a "drama" to justify its ‘contractualization’ move.

“Ganito na po ba ang gobyerno ngayon? Pag sinabi ni Mr. Tan na lugi, maniniwala tayo na lugi? (Does the government work this way now? If Mr. Tan says the company is bankrupt, then we will just believe?)," remarked Palad referring to PAL owner Lucio Tan.

Meantime, PAL said it will be conducting “marathon meetings” with Fasap for the 2010-2015 CBA.

“The immediate goal now is to put closure to the 2005-2010 CBA, which has become a major source of misunderstanding between the management and Fasap,” he said.

The CBA between PAL and Fasap has expired in July 2007 with the latter accusing the management of acting on bad faith.

But PAL has since denied this, saying the management is willing to find a middle ground with Fasap in order to resolve the pending issues, which include the stalled pay increase for flight attendants in 2007 and 2008 and the lowering of retirement age.

On August 5, Judge Oscar Pimentel of the Makati Regional Trial Court struck down PAL’s policy that forces male and female flight attendants hired before November 1996 to retire at ages 60 and 55, respectively.

The stewardesses went to the court to contest the said policy after calling it gender discriminatory. However, the carrier even lowered the retirement age to 40 in 2000.

PAL’s offer did not tackle the issue of retirement age, saying “there is more than enough time to discuss the retirement age provisions and issues.”

The beleaguered flag carrier also hoped that it can settle its differences with Palea.

“We're open to a dialogue. It’s just give-and-take. I hope we will all come to the negotiating table with open minds and hearts as we discuss issues. I know the families of our employees are anxious too and want to see the issues resolved amicably and as promptly as possible. We share their concern,” said Bautista.

Bautista also said the airline bore the brunt of the global economic crisis, after they incurred $320 million (roughly P15 billion) in losses in the last two years.

“We hope our fellow PAL workers will understand that we are dealing with the worst crisis that hit the global airline industry, crippling even the giant airlines of developed economies,” he said.

He added that higher fuel prices, the downgrade of the Philippines’ aviation safety rating to Category 2 by the US Federal Aviation Administration, and the European blacklist of all Philippine carriers have “exacerbated” the company’s bad position. (Kathrina Alvarez/Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)