Founded in 1941, PAL and its unionized workforce have a 65 year history of working together collaboratively to ensure the company’s success. In fact, to help PAL recover from the 1997 Asian financial crisis, its workers agreed to suspend their collective bargaining agreement and accept across the board salary and benefit freezes for more than a decade. To reward its employees' loyalty and sacrifice, in 2009 PAL management announced it would implement a “fire and rehire” outsourcing scheme that would slash workers’ salaries and benefits in violation of the collective bargaining agreement PAL has signed with its workers. The scheme, announced during a routine meeting with elected union leaders, would have allowed the company to illegally fire more than 3,500
To stop PAL’s illegal plans and reach a fair settlement the union sought assistance from Philippine Department of Labor mediators, who met with the Philippine Airlines Employees Association (PALEA) and PAL management for two weeks. Unfortunately, PAL management refused to discuss the outsourcing scheme during the talks and thus PALEA filed a notice of strike in late January of 2010 to protect the workers’ jobs and their ability to form and join a trade union.
On April 16, 2010, PAL informed the union of the closure of the airport services, in-flight catering and call center reservations departments and the termination of some 2,600 employees by May 31, 2010. The jobs were to be outsourced to contracting firms who would presumably hire back the fired workers. PALEA members then started mass actions in protest. Facing a united workforce, PAL management took the highly unusual step of lobbying the Philippine Department of Labor to use its powers to prevent the workers from taking collective action by “assuming jurisdiction” over the labor dispute and requiring the union to submit to compulsory arbitration.
On April 26, by order of the then Secretary of Labor, the Philippine Government sided with PAL management and ordered the union into compulsory arbitration, enjoining any further collective action. In June, then acting Secretary of Labor Romeo Lagman issued a decision that allowed PAL management to forgo the collective bargaining process and proceed with its outsourcing scheme. With the stroke of a pen, the Secretary of Labor destroyed 65 years of hard won gains by airline workers, not to mention a history of strong labor management cooperation.
Stunned by the decision, which set the precedent that companies in the Philippines can justify violating both a collective bargaining agreement and the Philippine law regulating the use of labor contracting as a valid “management prerogative”, the union appealed the decision to the Philippine courts, where the case remains unresolved. Both the International Labor Organization and the US Government have raised questions about the legality of the Philippine government’s “compulsory” arbitration process.
With the Department of Labor fully in management’s camp, workers appealed to Philippine President
Benigno Aquino to protect their right to freedom of association. Despite having campaigned on promises of a new agenda for strengthening workers’ rights, President Aquino sided with PAL management and approved the company’s request to fire more than 2,600 workers. With the President’s stamp of approval, PAL management fired all 2,600 employees on October 1,
Despite facing overwhelming collusion by powerful government and corporate elites, fired PAL workers refuse to give up. In September, PALEA workers launched a sit-down protest to protect their jobs, initially resulting in the cancellation of nearly 100 flights across the Philippines. In response PAL management began hiring scabs and using violent strike breakers that have injured several striking workers. Additionally, PAL and the government have continued their collaboration by aggressively pursuing unfounded criminal charges against workers in an effort to overwhelm the union with litigation.
Now that Philippine Airlines’ true colors are shining through, PAL workers have called on the international community to support their seminal struggle for trade union rights. Support PAL’s locked-out workers by boycotting the Philippine Airlines and its sister lowcost carrier, Air Philippines.
Here's the January 11, 2012 press release from PALEA with the very latest update:
“PALEA 300” seeks dismissal of violation of CAAP law case
In a hearing yesterday at the Pasay Hall of Justice, members of the Philippine Airlines Employees Association (PALEA) asked the city prosecutors to dismiss the violation of Civil Aviation Authority (CAAP) law case filed by the management against them in the aftermath of the September 27, 2011 protest that crippled the operations of Philippine Airlines (PAL). In an allusion to the mythical Spartans, PALEA President Gerry Rivera declared that “The respondents to the case, the PALEA 300 are brave men and women who will die fighting instead of surrendering to tyranny by PAL.”
The PAL management alleged in its complaints that PALEA members caused the destruction of some airline equipments during their September 27 protest, a charge vehemently denied by the union. The actual respondents to the case are 258 but PAL in previous press releases has claimed that some 300 PALEA members joined the September 27 protest.
In a picket to coincide with the hearing, PALEA insisted that the case was part of the many harassment cases thrown at PALEA members after the union strongly opposed PAL’s outsourcing plan. The next hearings are scheduled for February 2 and 9.
“We eat PAL harassment cases for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” stated Rivera. He claimed that “PAL is blindly shooting nuisance cases at PALEA members in a desperate bid to force them to accept the separation package and sign up for the illegal labor contractors Sky Logistics and Sky Kitchen. Some of the 258 named respondents were active participants in protests before and after September 27 but were on day off that fateful day.”
The union asserts that no company equipment was ever damaged during the September 27 protest. Instead the union knows that it was the improper use of an airstep by an inexperienced and unskilled scab that caused an accident where an Airbus A340 with aircraft ID 3430 plane door was dented.
Rivera asserts further that PAL services deteriorated sharply after September not because of damaged equipments but due to lack of skilled and experienced manpower after PALEA members, in opposition to contractualization / outsourcing, refused to transfer to assigned service providers.
“Up to now, more than three months after the outsourcing, passenger complaints of faulty services by contractual scabs working at PAL are piling up. It is therefore not the equipments but the flag carrier’s reputation that is being badly damaged,” declared Rivera.
PALEA insists that PAL’s waning reputation and deteriorating quality service can only be saved by getting its regular workers back. Supporters of PALEA are calling for a boycott of PAL and its sister company Air Philippines until the laid off workers are reinstated to their regular jobs.