SriLankan Airlines Chairman Ashok Pathirage who was once supposed to testify against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in the D.A. Rajapaksa Memorial case, concocted his plan in packing off over 400 staff on compulsory leave without pay, in the plush comfort of his own Softlogic Office Colombo Telegraph can reveal today.
The meeting was chaired by Chairman Pathirage himself and attended by Committee Members representing the Airline Pilots Guild of Sri Lanka, Nidhas Sevaka Sangamaya, Flight Attendants Union, SriLankan Airlines Aircraft Technicians Association (SAATA) and SriLankan Airlines’ Human Resources Management and held at 11 am on the 24th of April 2020 at the Softlogic Office.
Ironically Chairman Ashok Pathirage who also owns Asiri Surgical Hospital PLC was recently exposed when he was seeking ways to avoid paying Board of Investment (BOI) taxes. He was further exposed when he was caught violating his BOI agreement by depriving the poor of the free basic medical facilities that he was supposed to have provided them.
The national carrier Chairman Pathirage is now being viewed by many aviation professionals as committing a heinous crime in rendering 400 of his own airline staff and their immediate families destitute. This is especially after the government of Sri Lanka clearly instructed that a single employee not be terminated during this current Covid -19 pandemic.
However Chairman Ashok Pathirage’s appointment to the role he now holds and power he wields could perhaps be attributed to the fact that he once was appointed as a key prosecution witness and was lined up to testify in the prosecution of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and six other officials in the D.A. Rajapaksa Memorial case, that was quashed recently. This was reported in the state run Daily News newspaper dated 18th September 2018.
The national carrier Chairman started off his meeting stating that the airline needed to save US $ 75 million to help sustain it for the following three months.
Meanwhile what transpired was that Chairman Pathirage along with those in attendance decided to first protect themselves and then his favourites, his Executives and Senior Management, whilst throwing almost all 400 low end staffers under the (Air) bus.
It is still to be established as to why the respective union leaders at the meeting did not support their members and negotiate to help save their jobs.
Instead they decided to protect their own jobs and sources of income and opted to expose their members to face the horrors of being unemployed during the experienced ten week island wide curfew, sans any income.
For example the Flight Attendant Union representatives Dinesh Fernando and Charith Abeywickrema both Flight Pursers themselves draw well over Rs 7 lakhs a month as take home pay.
However in this instance they chose to remain mute and ensure that they and their permanent cadre of Cabin Crew enjoy the perks of being paid their wages and all their standard allowances, even though they were not flying.
An allowance named Productivity Flying Pay is usually paid to Cabin Crew when they are operating flights. However their negotiations ensured that their minimum number of 60 flying hours would continue to be paid, even though they were unproductive during this period, as they were not operating any flights.
Flight Attendant Union representatives Fernando, Abeywickrema and their group of Flight Pursers were in the interim paid a handsome Productivity Flying Allowance of US $ 1200 each in the last two months, besides their basic salaries, for merely staying at home.
A mere multiplication of that figure into just a group of only 125 Flight Pursers gives Chairman Ashok Pathirage an amount of approximately US $ 300,000 (for the last two months) that he sadly managed not to pick up.
If Chairman Pathirage was to take into account the valued total sum of Productivity Flying Allowances alone, which was paid to over 1300 Cabin Crew for being unproductive over the last two months, his eye balls would surely have sprung out of its sockets.
There are many other allowances that the Cabin Crew does get paid such as make-up allowances and tea allowances as well.
They also get paid an allowance for every day they are on annual leave too.
Had Chairman Pathirage also done a quick browse through the Collective Bargaining Agreement signed by the Management and the FAU, he would have been able to discover many ways that he could have cut costs.
The above is a just a glimpse or rather a little scratch of the surface, if he or his Management Team were looking at avenues to cut costs.
However quite sadly the two FAU representatives chose to safeguard all their benefits and allowances and send 44 of its own union membership paying Cabin Crew, who was serving job contracts home. Some of them sent home had already been serving the airline for well over 5 years.
On the other hand the three Pilots who attended the meeting namely Captains Pravin Wettimuni (Management) and Captains Janaka Perera and Gayan Thudawe (ALPGSL) were simply no better.
Instead of adhering to the Labour Laws and ALPGSL Constitution, which stipulates that all members are to be treated equally, they decided to forego only a mere 17% of their wages and secure all other allowances, whilst also packing off 12 Captains,6 First Officers, 2 Flight Dispatch Assistants and 1 Junior First Officers home. Eventually another 30 senior pilots who were also on contract were sent on compulsory leave with no pay.
Incidentally a Management Pilot pockets a take home packet in the range of US $ 18,000. It appears to be normal for a loss making company like SriLankan Airlines, especially in a third world country to do so.
A closer look at the diabolical decision taken by Chairman Pathirage simply exposes him as a person who disregards government instructions, overrides Ministerial orders and one who demonstrated his ignorance in implementing cost cutting measures.
But that too seems quite normal for a person like him to behave in such a manner, especially after it is now public knowledge as to how he created this path for himself to occupy the top most seat in the national carrier. He appears more powerful now by merely not testifying against the President in the now quashed D. A. Rajapaksa memorial case and gives a tuppence to any instructions he receives from any government Minister.
What seems more hilarious is that, here is a Chairman who went on to disregard government instructions despite being cherry picked for this job and still demands the government to provide him funds to keep the airline afloat.
This behaviour was quite expected as Chairman Pathirage did not possess an iota of aviation business acumen prior to joining the national carrier.
For example whilst other airline business competitors in the region took higher pay cuts ranging from 50% to 75% to save their junior employees and wiped out all types of allowances and fringe benefits , Chairman Pathirage decided to shave off only a mere 25% (maximum) off his highest income earners.
For example his CEO Vipula Gunatilleka who incidentally is on a contract himself, still pockets a handsome six figure salary whilst he ensured that his very own 400 member staff was made penniless.
In hindsight if only 50% of wages was deducted off all those who attended this meeting, it could be comfortably said that almost 50% of those that were sent home could have been paid their monthly salaries.
A staff member who was terminated and who spoke on condition of anonymity said “My take home wage was under Rs 30,000. I simply cannot believe that the management terminated us during a time when the entire country and the world is experiencing this pandemic. We were stuck at home for two months during the curfew with no money. From being employed we were suddenly thrown out to face levels of poverty. What boggles many minds is as to why our Minister of Aviation Prasanna Ranatunga continues to remain mute, when many of the 400 staff members who were terminated are from his very own Gampaha Electorate. He seems to have forgotten that a General Election is around the corner. Also it is astonishing that other current government officials continue to also remain quiet when the majority of the airline employees turned up in their numbers to vote for the current President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. They did this then to vote for a man whom they believed would help them save their jobs as the previous government was hell bent on making every move to close down the airline. Perhaps we were all wrong.”
Downsize or upsize or right size or whatever you may want to call it, it surely needs to be done. But not perhaps at a time like this, as the government of SriLanka has given its nationals the assurance that it is making every endeavor to safeguard them from this dreaded Covid-19 pandemic.
Chairman Ashok Pathirage needs to first start living and breathing the values of the airline, especially as a new entrant into this industry and start appreciating the fact that his employees are what really make this airline tick.