Is the Open-Skies Policy the Answer to Lucio Tan’s Anti-Worker Schemes?

In the short-term, this may close the gap in air transport service that a strike in the Philippine flag carrier would create, but at the expense of the demands of Filipino workers.


MANILA — In response to the notice of strike filed by the Philippine Air Lines’ 1,600-strong flight attendants union on Sept 9, President Benigno Aquino renewed his threat to further liberalize air transport in the Philippines via an open-skies policy. Presenting the policy like a threat to both PAL management and labor, Aquino has tasked his cabinet to study the possibility of implementing this form of liberalization of air transport since last month, when two dozen PAL pilots started resigning to protest salary cuts and contractualization. Aquino now told reporters he would ask the cabinet to “fast-track” the inquiry into implementing an open skies policy.

“If the row (between PAL management and employees) already causes disruption of PAL’s operations, the DOTC will come in and implement the open skies policy,” said the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) spokesman Dante Velasco in a report. That is, despite his worrying that a lot still needs to be done to implement the policy, for instance the need to follow the Constitutional requirement of “reciprocity.”

But will the open-skies policy be a real help in solving the labor unrest in PAL? Will it also truly benefit the riding public?

A PAL flight attendant asserts that the right to strike is guaranteed by the Philippine Constitution.(Photo courtesy of /

Aquino’s Bias for Foreign Capital, at the Expense of Filipino Workers and Riding Public

An open-skies policy will deregulate air traffic and allow more airlines to service all international and domestic routes in the country. Implementing it means the government, through its air traffic regulators, will grant service and landing rights to airlines whose governments do not allow Philippine flag carriers to service their countries.

In the short term this policy may close the gap in air transport service that a strike in the Philippine flag carrier would create, but at the expense of the demands of Filipino workers. “In case a strike is launched, the workforces of (other) airlines will be used as scabs or strike breakers (to) weaken the strike and the PAL workers’ capacity to assert their demands,” Elmer ‘Bong’ Labog, chairman of KMU, said in a statement.

The liberalization decreed by open-skies policy also reduces or removes altogether the power of the government to intervene in the air transport industry. “How can that be regarded as taking care of the interest of the Filipino riding public?” asked Bong Labog. He pointed to the oil cartel’s stranglehold of the Philippine economy as instructive of what would happen to the riding public once Aquino’s air transport liberalization pushes through.

Instead of pushing for open skies, the KMU advised President Aquino to “protect PAL workers’ rights.”

FASAP vice-president Andy Ortega. (Photo courtesy of

According to FASAP (Flight Attendants and Stewards Association), the PAL management has been violating provisions of the Labor Code, from minimum wages to equal treatment of male and female employees. The union has listed pertinent Constitutional provisions, international treaties, and the recently enacted Magna Carta of Women, as some of the laws being violated by PAL.

Before pilots started leaving en masse last June, the ground employees union of PAL had also filed a notice of strike against the Lucio Tan Group’s plan to terminate most of them and spin-off their departments to other providers. PAL’s earlier “spin-off” of a strategic department to a Lucio Tan Group company has been adjudged as illegal.

But instead of taking to task the Lucio Tan-controlled management of Philippine Air Lines for violating the country’s Labor Code, raising sexism to the level of corporate policy and doing illegal business acts, among others, the Aquino government has so far been mainly issuing threats to PAL workers.

In a recent report, Aquino has also quoted DOLE Secretary Rosalindo Baldoz as saying that flight attendants would be issued return-to-work orders if they push through with the strike. FASAP president Robert Anduiza has foreseen that. He had previously urged the government that if their hands are going to be tied with an assumption of jurisdiction (AJ) order, they hope the government will also tie Lucio Tan’s hands to prevent him from further violating the workers’ rights.

The assumption of jurisdiction order (AJ) and its accompanying return-to-work orders have historically been used in the Philippines to break up the workers’ protests, and at times the workers’ unions, too. The AJ has also been dubbed as “a license to kill,” as it has been used by employers and government to attack the strikers.

“Instead of heeding PAL workers’ just demands, Noynoy is pushing for the interests of foreign aviation companies. Instead of prioritizing workers who contribute wealth to the economy, he is prioritizing foreign capitalists and the government’s drive to raise funds through so-called ‘partnerships’ with them,” Labog said. He added that “The (PAL) workers have a reasonable and just basis for launching a strike. Aquino should push the PAL management to accede to the workers’ demands instead of pushing his liberalization agenda.”

Share This Post