MEMBERS of the Philippine Airlines Employees Association (PALEA) may have to shelve their plans for a labor strike at least for the moment.

This developed after the Department of Labor and Employment (Dole) exercised its right to intervene Friday night, saying that the labor dispute involves national interests.

"Any intended strike or lockout or any form of concerted action is hereby automatically enjoined," said the four-page order of Dole Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz.

The PAL workers' union already threatened to hold a work stoppage any day after the strike ban ends April 1 over PAL management's continued disregard for their call to start negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

PALEA conducted a successful strike vote last March 23, wherein 95 percent of the participating members voted to hold the strike after the seven-day cooling off period.

But instead of assuming jurisdiction and let her office resolve the dispute, the labor chief opted to send the case to the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) after the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB) conducted a series of failed conciliation talks between PAL and the Palea.

“The NLRC will resolve the dispute through compulsory arbitration,” explained Baldoz in a separate statement.

She stressed that her order is provided for under Article 263 of the Philippine Labor Code.

Baldoz added that she needed to consider the national interest given the country's dependence to the PAL operations in handling "the bulk of the country’s commercial and industrial trade."

"As the primary airline servicing domestic routes and major international destinations, a mere threat of a work stoppage, more so an actual strike can have adverse implications in the company’s operations," said the order.

It added that a work stoppage at this time could also be a major hindrance in the efforts to repatriate overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) from the turmoil-filled Middle East region.

“A strike in the airline at during crucial times cannot be tolerated as we are now hampered by the debilitating effects of the global crisis spawned by man-made and natural calamities,” said Baldoz.

Despite the order, though, Palea had declared its readiness to defy the order of Baldoz citing their Constitutionally-mandated right to hold a strike.

According to Palea President Gerry Rivera, the workers' union are now more determined to hold their strike in a bid not only to fight for their own rights but also of all the other workers who may be similarly threatened.

"The right to strike is a Constitutionally-protected freedom by workers to defend themselves against the awesome powers of capital," said Rivera. "We are ready to defy the order of Labor Secretary Baldoz any time we deem it necessary to go on strike in order to prevent layoff and contractualization at PAL."

As of now, the union leader said union members are still busy preparing for their planned strike.

"The order has not stopped a strike at PAL. It has merely postponed it to a date that PAL and the government cannot now know in advance," assured Rivera. (AMN/Sunnex)