After numerous scandals, Pakistan International Airlines was ordered to undergo major restructuring in order to fix what had become a massive loss-making institution. Part of that restructuring had been the voluntary separation scheme (VSS) for its employees, which was a package compensation for some employees, and included accumulated leaves, gratuity, provident fund, lump-sum medical and pension up to the age of 65 years. This was to mitigate the inevitable job losses that would follow with PIA’s restructuring.
Unfortunately, even the process of shaking up the PIA seems to attract controversies and hurdles. The VSS package was supposed to ease the restructuring but has seemed to make things worse for the PIA, both from a financial and reputation-wise perspective. It turns out that there has been some financial miscalculation and PIA is too cash-strapped to pay the retirement dues of around 2,000 employees who had opted for the VSS.
The non-payment of the package has naturally ignited a crisis amongst PIA employees. If this problem is not sorted out soon, it threatens to snowball into a national issue which could further damage PIA’s reputation. The affected employees have appealed to Prime Minister Imran Khan to intervene and have said they would be compelled to launch a protest campaign if their dues were not paid by the end of this week. PIA, as it stands currently, cannot afford a protest campaign of this sort.
The employees are not wrong—the delay of payment must be affecting their families and livelihood, especially in the midst of the pandemic. The government must get to the bottom of this issue as soon as possible. Firstly, it needs to ensure the payment is completed—employees should be compensated immediately so the next stage of the reformation can start. Secondly, it is clear that severe financial mismanagement has taken place within PIA—this calls for a post-fund audit to figure out what went wrong. If PIA does not grapple and fix the mistakes it is making during its restructuring, then the reform process might as well be futile since, without due accountability, the organisation is bound to repeat its mistakes.
Published in The Nation, February 17, 2021