MEA pilots to push on with strikes after talks fail
Late-night deliberations between the Lebanese Pilots Association and Middle East Airlines management failed to ward off a strike with most outbound flights to remain grounded Wednesday.
Head of LPA Fadi Khalil told The Daily Star that despite an initial agreement to resolve the conflict over layoff of cancer-stricken pilot Joseph Ayat, MEA chairman Mohammad Hout insisted to deduct the salaries of all the pilots who took part in the strike to compensate the losses incurred by the company during the 48-hour strike. This prompted the pilots to uphold the strike and announce the failure of the negotiations, Khalil said. Most MEA outbound flights remained grounded Tuesday.
MEA had issued a statement warning it would freeze salaries of pilots and held them liable for damages. “All the losses incurred by the company will be compensated from the pilots’ own salaries,” a statement, issued after an “emergency meeting” of the MEA board, warned.
The statement lashed out at the striking pilots, saying they had no legal right to hold the strike. It warned the company would lay off any pilots, who initiate further strikes. Only five MEA flights were able to take off Tuesday, including previously scheduled flights to Dubai, Dammam, Cairo, Riyadh and Irbil. MEA intends to announce new flight schedules on a daily basis with available pilots.
While the 48-hour strike announced Monday is scheduled to conclude Wednesday at 10 p.m. (2000 GMT), the new measures might extend the gridlock, warned Fadi Khalil, head of Lebanese Pilots Association: “Both the Constitution and law guarantee our right to strike. If they freeze our salaries, we will simply stop working and go ahead with our strike,” Khalil revealed in a talk with The Daily Star Tuesday.
The strike, initiated by LPA, is a stepped-up response to the sacking of pilot Joseph Ayat who is undergoing treatment for cancer. “All we want is for the company to apply the labor law entitling captain Ayat a 75-day fully paid sick-leave and an additional 75 days of half-pay,” Kalil reiterated in the talk.
Khalil was confident that no more than 15 pilots had refused to abide by the strike: “Only 15 out of the 180 MEA pilots have continued working. All other 165 pilots are upholding the strike.” No direct negotiations with MEA to resolve the issue had taken place until late Tuesday.
MEA maintains the layoff was prompted by the verdict of a medical committee which found that Ayat had permanently lost his ability to fly aircraft due to his sickness.
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