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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (March 9, 1998-Niuswire/Post-Courier)--- Two Air Niugini unions yesterday gave notice to the Government of a possible walk-out because they claim they cannot guarantee the safety of the traveling people, the Post-Courier reports.

The Aircraft Engineers Association and the National Airline Employees Association gave the warning at a press conference at Jackson's Airport yesterday. They have the backing of the PNG Trade Union Congress.

The unions have called on the Government: to immediately secure finance for spare parts to ensure safety levels and efficient services to the traveling public; to immediately terminate the agreement with PNG Banking Corporation and shift the responsibility back to the State; to immediately terminate Peter Petrolaus, who was finance director of Air Niugini while the airline was recording losses, and increasing its liability factor; and, as one cost cutting measure, terminate half of the expatriate pilots currently employed by Air Niugini.

"On this point it is completely absurd that Air Niugini employs approximately 140 pilots to fly 12 planes. These pilots work a total of approximately 40 hours per month, which in our view is well below the industry standard. In other words, we are paying pilots one month's wage for doing one week of work,'' they said.

Failure to respond to these demands will result in a mass walk-out, they said.

The unions did not set a time but said Air Niugini's problems were very serious and they could no longer pretend or assume everything was working well.

They called on the Government to immediately inject funds for spare parts costs which have sky-rocketed in the recent past.

They said with two aircraft undergoing maintenance almost every week and one (involved in the Nadzab Airport matter last year) grounded permanently awaiting insurance and other reports, the pressure on the operating aircraft to cover schedules normally flown by grounded aircraft was very high.

Aircraft Engineers Association President Desmond Nicholas said safety concern was becoming paramount for the engineers and Air Niugini staff alike.

He said as professionals they were concerned and did not want to sign out aircraft when they were not air worthy. He said if anything went wrong, the person who signed the clearance would be responsible and the penalty was very severe.

Mr. Nicholas said the current fleet of Fokker F28 aircraft would no longer be around by the year 2000, as the model was being phased out worldwide and there are no reliable sources for parts.

"This means in some cases, patch work repair is done just to keep planes flying.''

National Airline Employees Association president Andrew Masule condemned the Government's inaction and inability to recognize its responsibility to the airline and the traveling public.

General Secretary of the PNG Trade Union Congress John Paska branded the Government's inability to safeguard the interests of the traveling public as highly negligible and condemned it in the strongest terms.

"It is an indication of the drastic decline of services at Air Niugini and the pathetic state of affairs that the airline is going through, that even boarding passes are not issued for all flights,'' he said.

Mr. Paska, who joined the two union leaders at the press conference at Jackson's Airport, said if a tragedy occurred the Government would no doubt blame workers rather than accept responsibility.

"We cannot allow our workers and members to accept blame for the fault and incompetence of the Government,'' he said.

"Equally important, we are not prepared to risk the lives and safety of the traveling public.''

He said the airline unions have already made submissions on cost cutting measures to include wage freezes and retrenchment, with a genuine commitment from the work force towards the sustainability of the airline. However, the Government has not taken steps to address the problems likewise, he added.

Title -- 1249 AVIATION: Air Niugini unions warn of walk-out Date -- 9 March 1998 Byline – None Origin -- Niuswire Source -- Post-Courier (PNG), 9/3/98 Copyright -- Post-Courier Status – Unabridged

This document is for educational and personal use only. Recipients should seek permission from the copyright source for reprinting. This service is provided by Journalism Studies, University of Papua New Guinea. Please acknowledge Niuswire:

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