Foreign carriers may be offered Philippine Airlines routes if attendants strike

By Oliver Teves, AP
Friday, September 10, 2010

Philippines to offer PAL routes in case of strike

MANILA, Philippines — Foreign carriers may be invited to fly routes served by the troubled flag carrier Philippine Airlines if its flight attendants go on strike, the tourism chief said Friday.

Tourism Secretary Alberto Lim said that the government should prepare to ask foreign airlines to take up the slack in case attendants push through with their threat to call a strike over stalled negotiations on a collective bargaining agreement.

The Flight Attendants’ and Stewards’ Association of the Philippines filed a notice of strike Thursday but the union and management still have 30 days to settle their dispute.

Among the union’s demands is the scrapping of the retirement age of 40 and a policy that forces pregnant attendants to go on unpaid leave for nine months.

PAL currently does not fly to Europe but operates more than 30 weekly flights to the United States. It also flies to nearby Asian countries, plus Australia, Canada and Saudi Arabia, where millions of Filipinos work.

It was the latest of troubles to hit PAL. Last month’s sudden resignations of 25 of its pilots who left for better-paying jobs abroad led to more than a dozen cancellations in domestic and international flights.

The airline last year said it would offer early retirement for its employees as part of cost-cutting measures after suffering losses of US$301 million. It has more than 8,000 employees.

Lim said that if the strike goes ahead, the Department of Transportation and Communition “should prepare to invite foreign carriers to fly visitors and Filipinos as well.

He did not elaborate in his radio interview and could not be reached for comment Friday, a public holiday.

During strikes in 1999 and 2000, after PAL fired about 5,000 employees, Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines covered some of the airline’s international routes and charged higher fares, said Robert Lim Joseph, chairman emeritus of the National Association of Independent Travel Agencies.

PAL spokeswoman Cielo Villaluna said the strike also is ill-timed following thousands of booking cancellations from Hong Kong and China in the wake of a botched hostage rescue that killed eight Hong Kong tourists and their bus hijacker Aug. 23 in Manila.

“A strike threat doesn’t help in efforts to lure back tourists to the country,” she said in a statement.

She said management was willing to settle issues in the collective bargaining agreement, but denied union claims that flight attendants were overworked and underpaid.


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