Tue, 15 Jan 2002

Strike is off, Merpati flights run as scheduled

Fitri Wulandari, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Scheduled flights of state-owned domestic airline company Merpati Nusantara Airlines ran without disruption on Monday as pilots canceled their planned strike.

"All flights are running on schedule, everything is normal," Imam Turidy, Merpati's general manager for corporate affairs told The Jakarta Post.

Only one flight to Medan, North Sumatra, had to be canceled as Medan's Polonia airport was closed due to floods, Imam said.

Imam said that in anticipation of the possible strike, the company had organized back up cabin crews to cover the scheduled flights on Monday.

"It's our commitment to our customers. We will not stop our services in spite of threats of strikes," Imam said.

Earlier, the company's pilots, grouped in the Merpati's Pilot Association (APM), had threatened to go on strike on Monday due to the prolonged internal rift with the board of directors.

But some pilots instead held a peaceful rally by handing over red roses to Merpati passengers in Terminal B, at the Soekarno- Hatta International Airport, early Monday morning.

Previously, the company had issued a warning saying it would take firm measures if the pilots decided to go ahead with the planned strike.

Serving 250 routes, Merpati is the backbone of domestic flights as it travels to remote areas across the archipelago, especially the eastern part of Indonesia.

Asked about the company's plan in anticipation of another possible strike, Imam said that the company had prepared back up cabin crews.

The crews were stationed in Jakarta and other major service stations such as Makassar, South Sulawesi and Surabaya, East Java, he added.

Meanwhile, APM chairman Sardjono Johni claimed that they had not canceled their plan due to the management's warning.

"As the government has agreed to replace the board of directors by February at the latest, we decided to conduct a peaceful demonstration instead," he said.

According to Sardjono the Office of the State Minister of State Enterprises decided on the management reshuffle following a meeting last week with the House of Representatives Commission IV on transportation and infrastructure.

"We'll see if this materializes. If not, we will surely launch a strike," Sardjono, who led the morning action, warned.

While speaking about the possible strike, Sardjono said that the pilots would maintain their service to the eastern part of Indonesia where many regions rely solely on Merpati fights.

With 620 member pilots, APM has been demanding the dismissal of the board of directors -- led by Wahyu Hidayat -- since last year.

They argued that the board of directors has failed to improve conditions in the company thus affecting services to customers.

Imam, however, brushed aside the allegation, saying the company was in a much better condition than in 1999.

He said that currently the company operated 35 airplanes, up from 23 in 1999. The company had not laid off any of its 4,300 employees despite slowing business in the industry, Imam said.

"I think we have made some progress," he remarked.

Sumarno, a public relations officer at the Office of the State Minister of State Enterprises said that the reshuffle of Merpati's board of directors had not been discussed yet.

"I heard the news but it is not final," he said.