THE FLIGHT Attendants and Stewards Association (FASAP) of the Philippine Airlines (PAL) has filed a notice of strike against the money-losing flag carrier because the airline refused to give in to their demands for more benefits. PAL has been losing heavily, as do most airlines?with the exception of some Middle Eastern airlines that are heavily subsidized by their oil-rich governments?because of the world economic crisis.
Public sympathy is usually with the workers; management is often painted as profit-hungry employers exploiting their employees. PAL is no exception. In addition, PAL is accused of having a ?beerhouse mentality? for having a policy of retiring its flight attendants when they reach the age of 40 because it wants its attendants to always look young and beautiful. In comparison, Northwest Airlines of the United States has grandmothers as flight attendants. If Northwest can do it, why can?t PAL? After all, many women are still pretty and attractive at 40 and older.
But that is only the propaganda part. Even if PAL raises the retirement age of its flight attendants, FASAP will still not be happy because it is asking for pay increases and more perks.
But PAL can no longer afford to pay more because of its series of financial losses due to the economic slowdown which has fewer and fewer people traveling. In the last two years alone, PAL lost $300 million because of worsening factors. PAL listed these factors as:
Sluggish market demand due to the global economic crisis;
The downgrading of the Philippines to Category 2 by the US Federal Aviation Administration;
The ban on all Philippine carriers from flying into European airspace imposed by the European Union;
High fuel prices;
The liberal grant of air traffic rights by the Philippine government to foreign carriers;
The inadequate and below-par infrastructure and equipment at major domestic airports.
What?s more, PAL?s cabin crews are not exactly getting peanuts. The cabin attendants? package of benefits far exceeds those of ground and management staff. Aside from the standard 13th and 14th month pay, travel, medical and uniform benefits, cabin attendants also get allowances that rival the allowances and bonuses of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System and other GOCCs (government-owned and -controlled corporations). PAL cabin crews receive the following in addition to their regular salaries:
First-class hotel accommodation;
Field reserve pay;
Temporary duty pay;
Tour of duty incentive (beyond 14 hours of duty)
Long-haul flight incentive;
Bar sales commission (in-flight duty-free sales). PAL?s cabin crews get the highest rate of in-flight sales commission compared to other airlines in the region;
Flight diversion allowance;
Cabin attendants also cannot claim that they are overworked. They are entitled to enviable rest periods under their Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA):
One rest day in Manila before a long-haul flight;
One-and-a-half rest day in an outlying station after a long-haul flight;
Days off equivalent to half the number of days away from Manila;
One extra day off after enjoying several days of vacation before reporting for duty;
The cabin crews are entitled to rest periods during a 13-hour flight (for example, a B747 aircraft on a trans-Pacific flight). After serving meals, when the passengers are asleep, the cabin crew can also rest. But even while resting, they earn productivity pay. Whether or not the flight is full, they still get the completed package of allowances;
Under the rules of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, flight attendants can be assigned only 100 flying hours a month, but actual work rendered averages only 65 hours;
PAL does not discriminate against pregnant flight attendants. Preventing them from flying is for the safety of mother and child. Many cabin attendants delay revealing that they are pregnant. PAL extends the standard maternity benefits provided by law, even advancing P30,000 of their SSS benefits to cover expenses. Any earned vacation leaves may be used before applying the pregnancy and maternity leaves. Seniority is not lost during pregnancy. Beyond these, the pregnant cabin attendant is no longer entitled to any pay (no work, no pay) just like any ground staff member.
From April 2009 to March 2010, a total of 65 cabin attendants went on maternity leave (or roughly one pregnancy every six days). Almost all of them returned to work again despite allegations of unfair work rules or discriminatory practices.
As for the regular pay, the cabin crews? pay (which is all-inclusive because of the peculiarity of their job), the domestic cabin attendant gets on the average around P40,000 a month, while an international cabin attendant gets P60,000 a month. The flight purser gets P80,000 monthly.
As for the retirement policy, the 40-year retirement age is part of the PAL-FASAP CBA signed in 2001. FASAP was not forced to sign the CBA and yet, nine years later, FASAP insists the provision is discriminatory.
PAL management said it is willing to discuss the retirement age provision in the next CBA negotiation for 2010 to 2015.
Additionally, management said major airlines in the region have similar young retirement ages for their cabin crews. PAL has to compete with these carriers that put a high premium on image, especially on frontliners like the cabin crew, management said.
PAL seeks the riding public?s understanding, hoping FASAP will return to the negotiating table and not cause undue public alarm with their threat of a strike.