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Garuda pilots threaten strike unless 'cost cutter' is sacked

Union says new management is responsible for 'crazy' delays

Passenger complaints have been on the rise as Garuda has suffered numerous delays and flight cancellations.   © AP

JAKARTA -- The pilots association of Garuda Indonesia is threatening to launch a strike if the government fails to meet its demands for management changes within the next month, as cost-cutting measures at the loss-making flag carrier seem to be backfiring.

All association members, who represent approximately 90% of Garuda's 1,500 pilots, would join the strike, their latest attempt to have the board of directors reduced from eight members to six.

Critics say the current structure is bloated and adds to Garuda's ballooning operational costs. Newcomers on the board with a lack of experience in the airline industry have contributed to the carrier's deteriorating performance in recent months, pilots and other members of Garuda's labor union said.

"For reasons that we can't understand, the management changed the scheduling system for the crew ... which has resulted in crazy delays every long weekend and major flight cancellations," the union's chairman, Ahmad Irfan Nasution, told a news conference on Wednesday.

"We used to be very proud with our very good on-time performance, our very good services. Now [our reputation] is suddenly destroyed," Nasution said. "We're completely aware that striking will aggravate the situation. But we have attempted to communicate plenty of times, and they wouldn't listen."

Passenger complaints have been increasing amid a spate of delays and flight cancellations since December, following the introduction of a crew scheduling system by the new management, which is headed by Pahala Mansury.

Pilots at flag carrier Garuda Indonesia threaten to launch a strike in response to unpopular policies introduced by new management. (Photo by Erwida Maulia)

Mansury, formerly finance director at state-owned Bank Mandiri, Indonesia's largest lender by assets, was appointed Garuda's president in April 2017 to address the airline's poor financial performance.

But his policies have yet to show positive earnings results. Instead, the airline posted a $213 million net loss for 2017, plunging from a $9 million profit a year earlier.

Union members have demanded the replacement of the director for human resources, who has been in the position since 2016. Wednesday's news conference followed a shareholders meeting on April 19, at which Linggarsari Suharso kept her post. Garuda is majority owned by the government of Indonesia.

Union members blame Suharso for cost-cutting measures they say wrongly targeted pilots. Pilots face unnecessary stress caused by the end of services such as having drivers drop pilots off at airports before flights, as well as income disparities resulting from the introduction of work contracts for new recruits as opposed to the old permanent employment scheme, union members said.

"She doesn't understand personnel management and flight management," Nasution said. "There are so many things that she doesn't understand. How come she was reappointed? How come they reappointed the troublemaker?"

Hengki Heriandono, Garuda's vice president for investor relations, said no shareholders meeting is planned to discuss the labor union's demands. He added that changing the management is under "the majority shareholder's authority, in this case the Ministry of State-Owned Enterprises."

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