BANGKOK – Thai Airways International was hit by flight delays and passenger complaints yesterday as a strike by the national carrier’s staff entered its second day.
Hundreds of THAI employees are demanding salary increases and bigger bonuses. However, THAI chairman Ampon Kittiampon said yesterday the firm was unable to meet their demands, as the airline operator needed funds to pay dividends and debts, and to make investments.
In response to Ampon’s explanation, the leader of THAI’s labour union staging the strike called on Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to have Ampon removed. THAI could make a profit without him, she said.
THAI’s domestic flights at Suvarnabhumi Airport were delayed by 15-20 minutes yesterday as some staff members stopped work to join the protest, according to Samat Phum-on, director of the carrier’s crisis-management and operations centre.
No flights were cancelled, he said.
It was reported that hundreds of Thai and foreign passengers became upset after being forced to wait longer than usual for their baggage. Monitors at some baggage carousels displayed faulty flight information, causing confusion among the passengers, according to Matichon Online.
Ampon said yesterday that THAI’s executive board had approved bonuses totalling Bt1 billion for 2012, with employees receiving one-month bonuses, following a proposal from the management team. The amount was higher than the previous year’s bonuses, worth Bt800 million-Bt900 million. The total value of the 2012 bonuses was higher because base salaries had increased, the chairman said.
Moreover, Ampon said, the bonuses accounted for the biggest portion of profit allocation in 2012, exceeding dividend and debt payments as a proportion of profit, as well as investments. The employees were rewarded for helping the company return to profit after posting a loss in the first half of the year, he said.
“The board made a fair decision on bonus payments, and it was the highest payment the company could make. This could be seen from the report to the Stock Exchange of Thailand that the employees’ bonuses accounted for the biggest [portion of the firm’s profit],” he added. “If THAI paid higher bonuses, there would probably be no money left to pay the company’s dividends, debts or investments. We insist that the board has recognised the employees’ significance.”
Ampon said he would have THAI president Sorajak Kasemsuvan ensure that a “good understanding” was reached among the protesting staff.
About 300 members of THAI’s labour union gathered at Suvarnabhumi Airport late Friday to demand the higher bonus and pay. Union chief Chamsri Sukchotirat said THAI employees deserved a bonus of two months’ salary, based on Ampon’s earlier remark on the airline’s satisfactory financial results for 2012. On the same grounds, the union demanded a 7.5-per-cent pay hike.
Ampon had agreed to meet with the protesting employees on Tuesday, but Chamsri said this would be too late and they wanted to meet him earlier.
“He doesn’t pay attention to employees’ demands. Tuesday is too late. If he lets the problem continue and more flights are delayed, it will reflect his lack of leadership. He does not deserve to be president any more. We want him to quit,” she said.
She added that the protesters would not give up their strike.
Transport Minister Chadchart Sittipunt said he had told Sorajak to take urgent steps to resolve the protests, as he did not want passengers to be affected and foreigners to lose confidence in the country.
“THAI’s executives have to consider whether the staff protest violates the laws or the company’s employee regulations. It has to take actions if it finds violation,” Chadchart added.
Chamsri said the union realised that its action could affect passengers and they apologised to them for any inconvenience.
Nongnapas Maipanich,Theerapol Khumsuk -The Nation