Sun, 26 Jan 2003

Garuda's pilots to delay industrial action

Arya Abhiseka The Jakarta Post Jakarta

After causing much public anxiety, Garuda Indonesia's pilots announced on Saturday to stave off their threats to disrupt flights over demands for a raise and expressed their readiness to sit down at the negotiating table.

Their decision came out only a day after the management played down the threat of industrial action and armed itself with a contingency plan, which included a signal to recruit foreign pilots, if necessary.

It was not clear, however, if the pilots' move to withdraw their threat was driven by the cold response from the flag carrier's management.

Ari Safari, president of the Garuda Pilot Association, nevertheless claimed that the pilots agreed to delay their industrial action after talks with the Minister of Manpower and Transmigration Jacob Nuwa Wea on Friday.

He said that the minister had agreed to mediate a talk between the pilots and the management on Tuesday, Jan. 28.

"The minister has promised us he would be a mediator, and we are also taking into account the public interest. Therefore, we are willing to delay our industrial action," he said.

The pilots threatened on Tuesday to take industrial action starting today if the management failed to meet their demands for a higher salary.

Initially, the pilots planned to take part in a "labor slowdown" from Jan. 26 to Feb. 1, which would cause an hour's delay for all Garuda flights.

The second action would be undertaken from Feb. 2 to Feb. 9, during which time the pilots would force all flights to be delayed by five hours, if the management still refused to meet their demands.

Then, starting Feb. 10, the pilots would go on strike if no agreement had been reached.

The action was feared to disrupt domestic air transportation, as Garuda carried about 40 percent of five million air travelers on domestic routes last year.

The pilots, have not disclosed how much rise they demanded from the management, fearing that disclosing their salaries might cause public cynicism.

Garuda management, however, disclosed the figures: Pilots are currently paid between Rp 7.9 million (US$887.6) and Rp 22.8 million a month.

According to the management, the pilots demanded monthly salaries of between Rp 47.1 million and Rp 88.8 million. Meanwhile, the management has only offered salaries of between Rp 13 million and Rp 24.6 million a month.

Ari said the figures were greater than the pilots' demands, but he stopped short of disclosing the exact figures.

Garuda president director Indra Setiawan said that his airline offered adequate income for its pilots, in relation to the country's living costs.

"We pay our pilots' taxes, therefore they take home a net income," he said.

In addition, he said that unlike other airlines which only offered 2-year contracts, Garuda hired permanent employees and offered pensions.

Indra said that pilots received about 20 percent of the airline's monthly salary budget, while they only counted for 6.6 percent of total employees.

He also said that the current offer to pilots was the maximum the company could bear, as it still owed a large amount of debt to foreign creditors.

Garuda, which flies to 24 cities around the world, has just recovered from financial woes after restructuring US$1.51 billion in debts more than a year ago.