Strong Mass Actions, Not Just Legal Redress, Urged vs Labor Rights Violations in PAL

Many labor and partylist groups in the country view the labor department’s approval of PAL management’s outsourcing and retrenchment plan as a go-signal as well for an even more intensified contractualization of employment arrangements all over the country.


Related Story: PAL A Flag-Carrier of Unprecedented Anti-Labor Rulings?

MANILA— “A con and a ruse”— that is how the progressive labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) called the Aquino regime’s proffered ‘legal redress’ to workers of Philippine Airlines (PAL). Mass lay-offs and lower-paying, insecure contractual work now await some 3,000 longtime workers as the labor department has given PAL management the go-signal to implement the airline’s outsourcing plans.

Many labor and partylist groups in the country view the labor department’s approval of PAL management’s outsourcing and retrenchment plan as a go-signal as well for an even more intensified contractualization of employment arrangements all over the country.

“To oppose this (mass lay-off) we hope our fellow unionists in PALEA would not allow themselves to be fooled into mainly relying on legal redress. This can take years and years and can easily be manipulated by the wealthy and influential PAL owner Lucio Tan,” Joselito Ustarez, vice-president of KMU, said in Filipino in a press conference Wednesday. He reiterated the labor center’s hope that PALEA would see that the way to resist this “flagrant attack on their rights to job security and living wage is through stronger mass actions.”

Interminable, Fruitless Legal Redress

PAL employees are not new to seeking legal redress. Flight attendants, for example, have bitterly learned that legal redress can take more than ten years, as theirs did before they won it in the Supreme Court. And yet, until now, 12 years later, the fruits of this legal battle are still out of their reach.

Implementation of the two Supreme Court decisions, one issued in 2008 and another in 2009, in favor of 1,400 illegally dismissed flight attendants, are still being snagged by yet another appeal from PAL management, said Andy Ortega, vice-president of PAL Flight Attendants and Stewards’ Union (FASAP).

The two decisions by the Supreme Court reportedly stated that the 1,400 flight attendants retrenched by PAL in 1998 were illegally terminated, and should thus be reinstated, paid their back wages in full, among others. “The situation now is, we are still awaiting for another decision on a case where the Supreme Court has made a decision twice already. Till when would this go on?” asked Ortega.

“If these were the kind of legal redress we have, that takes an interminably long time,” Ortega told Bulatlat.

Sneaky, Deceitful

“As the DOLE and PAL have colluded to defend the profits of PAL, such as through issuing assumption of jurisdiction (AJ) orders and through rejecting the motion for reconsideration filed by the union against the DOLE’s approval of outsourcing in PAL, we could not say now that there is hope the courts who would process our redress would side with us,” the Anakpawis Partylist chapter in the airline said in a statement.

DOLE has issued two separate AJ orders this year. One has barred PALEA, the ground crew union, from holding a strike and other protest actions against the massive lay-off affecting them. The other has barred FASAP, the cabin crew union, from holding a strike to press their demand for non-discriminatory retirement age and a stop to PAL’s practice of paying its approximately 600 flight attendants below minimum wages.

“The Aquino government practically gave a go-signal to employers to implement massive contractualization of labor, indiscriminately violate workers’ rights, and disregard the Philippine Labor Code,” Anakpawis Partylist Representative Rafael Mariano said in a statement.

With Gabriela Partylist Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan, Rep. Mariano urged President Aquino to intervene, citing the primacy of national interest over private profit. The House Committee on Labor and Employment also vowed, once again, to immediately look into at least seven resolutions that by now have been filed in Congress regarding the labor disputes in PAL.

No Basis for Anti-Labor Restructuring Except More Profits

The privately-controlled Philippine flag carrier has recently experienced a turn around after two years of ‘losses,’ which it began to incur as it started investing again in 23 new aircraft delivered to PAL from 2007 to 2009. Of these 23 loan-purchased new aircraft, 11 are from Airbus, four are from Boeing and eight are from Bombardier.

Prepayments plus annual staggered payments for all of these aircraft would naturally eat up into PAL’s income beginning in 2008. Should these be considered as ‘losses?’ Anakpawis Partylist chapter in PAL asked. In the years 2007 to 2009, too, according to PAL’s financial statements, PAL fully paid about four Airbus planes, only to sell it and lease it back again, thus recording additional liability in its financial statement.

Are you losing money if you’re capable of investing anew and expanding your businesses? asked Ortega of FASAP. He said “There appears to be no more reason for PAL management to opt for a “permanent solution such as mass lay-off to their temporary viability problem.”

The global aviation industry has also “rebounded,” according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), an international industry trade group of airlines. It attributed the “rebound” to increasing passenger travel and a climb in cargo trade. But a cause for worry for industry employees is that the trade group is looking at cost cutting measures to “accelerate” the industry’s rebound.

As such, it looks like Mr. Lucio Tan is not after a mere “survival plan,” he is more after raking in bigger profits and propelling a greater expansion of the Lucio Tan Group in the aviation industry, said Anakpawis Rep. Mariano.

Business tycoon Lucio Tan, owner of PAL and another aviation company called MacroAsia, has climbed to the second position among the Philippines’ wealthiest as PAL exited rehab. His PAL Holdings, which owns about 81-percent of PAL, increased its net earnings by more than half according to the Philippine Stock Exchange. His MacroAsia reaped profits in 2009 despite the challenges faced that year by the global aviation industry.

In the past, progressive unionists from PAL have questioned the roles of companies under MacroAsia, including Air Philippines, which, they said, could bleed PAL dry by getting its businesses or getting handsomely paid by PAL or by PAL’s clients for it. Thus, unionists reasoned, PAL can claim and record losses despite a continuously increasing volume of passengers and cargo every year.

But all these seemed to be disregarded by the labor department in having approved PAL’s plans, complained many labor groups. Instead of protecting the workers’ interests, the labor department took the side of the management of PAL and disregarded the employees’ security in the workplace, Rep. Mariano said. (

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