A strike by about 400 Thai Airways ground staff at Suvarnabhumi airport that disrupted dozens of flights yesterday, including several international ones, looks set to continue.
NOT READY FOR TAKE-OFF: About 300 Thai Airways International staff gather at the airline’s ground operations centre at Suvarnabhumi airport yesterday to demand a pay increase and higher bonuses. The protest, which entered its second day, is partly to blame for the delay of some flights at the airport.
The protesters said last night they would prolong their industrial action until their demands over an increased bonus and a larger pay rise are met.
However, the Transport Ministry and THAI executives have dug in their heels and are refusing to bow to the demands.
The strike, which started on Friday afternoon at the country's main airport, was joined by hundreds of THAI staff members who are fighting for a two-month bonus and a 7.5% pay rise instead of a one-month bonus and a salary hike of 4% offered by the THAI board.
The protesters gathered outside THAI's ground operations centre yesterday.
Their work stoppage caused delays of 15-20 minutes and at least 30 THAI flights, both domestic and international, were affected.
At least 20 flights are expected to be affected today if the problem is unresolved, said Vilaiwan Nadvilai, director of Suvarnabhumi airport.
She said the service mainly affected was luggage handling as drivers of trucks transporting luggage and related staff stopped working.
Staff from Don Mueang airport were brought in to assist in moving luggage, as were members of the air force. However, only the workers from Don Mueang were able to drive vehicles at Suvarnabhumi, as the air force members did not hold the required licences.
"I have waited for an hour now [at the luggage claim]. It's never happened to me before. It's getting tiring, why doesn't anyone tell us what's happening," said Mutanakul Somsak, 26, a passenger flying to Kunming, China.
Other airport staff tried to calm the irate passengers with soft drinks, but could not tell them what was causing the delay.
Transport Minister Chadchat Sittipunt said yesterday he had ordered airline president Sorajak Kasemsuvan to promptly deal with the protest to avoid upsetting passengers and tarnishing the country's reputation.
He also asked the airline to investigate staff who had abandoned their duties. They could face drastic action, he said.
"It's the duty of the airline's board to consider awarding a pay rise or a bonus. All sides should meet to hold talks on those issues," the minister said.
"I don't want the protest to inconvenience the public. The airline executives must consider whether the move by protesting staffers violates the law or the airline's regulations."
Action must be taken against offending staff members, Mr Chadchat said.
The Transport Ministry had a clear policy that any protest related to public services must not cause trouble to customers, he said.
"This is a serious problem that is not only damaging the airline but also the country's image," Mr Chadchat said. "They are only considering their own personal benefit and not the company's."
Jaemsri Sukchoterat, the THAI labour union chairwoman who led the strike, said the protest would continue until the board bows to the workers' demands.
No airline executives had met the union during the day, according to an airline source.
Ms Jaemsri said the strike was causing flight delays but the staff were not breaking company regulations because they had stopped work while doing overtime.
Board chairman Ampon Kitti-ampon yesterday defended the one-month bonus as a suitable amount.
He said the airline's profit is split three ways. Portions are set aside for staff bonuses, dividends for shareholders and company investments.
This year's staff bonus exceeds one billion baht.
He said next week he would meet the staff to explain. The board has yet to consider the protesters' demands.
However, it would meet on Tuesday to discuss a solution.
Samat Phum-on, director of the national carrier's Crisis Management and Operations Centre, said earlier in the day that some ground staff had walked off the job. But the disruptions were only slight and no flights were cancelled.
Late last night THAI executives were believed to be trying to negotiate with the union leaders to end the strike.
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Writer: Amornrat Mahitthirook & Soonya Vanichkorn