Philippine Airlines workers continue struggle, support Qantas staff

The Qantas lockout of its workers in Australia is not unique. More than 2000 workers were locked out by Philippine Airlines (PALEA) since October 1. The Philippine Airline Employee’s Association has maintained a growing campaign for their re-instatement that is gaining international support.

Despite waging a desperate struggle, PALEA has also taken the time to lend its support to fellow workers in their struggle against Qantas. PALEA issued a statement in solidarity with Qantas workers on October 14 declaring that “the struggles you are waging mirror the same demands that we are currently fighting for at Philippine Airlines, the flag carrier of our country.


Results of attack on PALEA protest camp, October 28.

“PALEA supports the series of strike actions being undertaken by unions representing Qantas engineers, baggage handlers, catering staff and pilots. In the face of intransigence by Qantas management, only industrial action can force employers to heed the demands of workers.

“Further we are inspired by the struggles for labor rights and social justice of fellow aviation workers such as yours in Qantas and by general strikes around the globe such as that in Greece recently.

“PALEA is not alone. And Qantas workers are not alone. Our supporters in the Philippines say ‘We are all PALEANS.’ To you, we say ‘We are all Qantas workers.’”

The Philippine Airlines management actions are very similar to those of Qantas. The PALEA members have been locked out as part of a plan to outsource the airport services, in-flight catering and call centre reservations departments of Philippine Airlines.

The airline’s main shareholder is Lucio Tan – a notorious business tycoon with a track record of attacks on workers’ rights. The government of President Benigno Aquino has sided with the airline in the dispute

PALEA has maintained a protest camp near the airline’s headquarters in the Ninoy Aquino International Airport since September 27.

PALEA has also succeeded in attracting widespread support internationally and within the Philippines for its struggle.

On October 14, a delegation from Doro-Chiba (Japan railway workers) picketed the Philippine Embassy in Tokyo. Consul Officers received the letter of concern on PALEA's plight and support for the demand against outsourcing and lockout.

Labor unions and the Filipino-American community staged a picket at the Philippine consulate and ticketing office of Philippine Airlines  on October 27 in San Francisco, California. A delegation met Philippine Deputy Consul General Alfonso Ver and submitted a letter of concern.

In its own message of solidarity, the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association (ALAEA), which represents Qantas engineers, declared that “all ALAEA members stand shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with PALEA in their ongoing battle and will support them in their fight against unjust treatment. We will also fully support your efforts through the International Transport Workers Federation with the linking of all international affiliates backing your full reinstatement.”

As Gerry Rivera, PALEA president and vice chairman of Partido ng Manggagawa (Labor Party), explained, “International support will go a long way in sustaining and winning PALEA’s fight”.

PALEA has also found high levels of support within the Philippines. The Kampanya para sa Makataong Pamumuhay (KAMP), a coalition of different sectoral and civil society organisations has continued to build support for PALEA.

In a slap in the face for President Aquino, a statement was unanimously adopted by the different sectors represented in the National Anti-Poverty Commission’s (NAPC) National Sectoral Assembly held on October 17-19. It condemned contractualisation as a policy and called on President Aquino to utilise his powers to reinstate the 2600 employees.

The NAPC is a consultative body that advises the President and implements policy on poverty reduction polices.

PALEA has also maintained its protest camp and pressure on Philippine Airlines. This is despite attacks on the protest camp by goons and numerous instances of police intimidation. Services remain heavily affected and serious safety concerns have emerged.

On October 10 PALEA held a “Run for Justice Against Corporate Greed”. According to PALEA president Gerry Rivera “The Run for Justice is also inspired by the movement against corporate greed and capitalist globalisation that is sweeping the world”.

A motorcade was also staged around the Manila International Airport and the offices of Philippine Airlines on October 26 to commemorate the 30th day of the dispute.

The government and Philippine Airlines has resorted to direct attacks on the PALEA protest encampment. On October 19, a court sheriff – accompanied by hired goons – attempted to disperse the camp. The resistance of more than a thousand PALEA members forced them to retreat.

Again on October 28, 40 hired goons entered PALEA’s protest camp while most protesters were still sleeping and started tearing down tents. This prompted PALEA members to fight back. The attack was effectively repelled but four PALEA members were hurt during the scuffle and three tents were destroyed.