Union opposes privatising THAI, spinning off units

Union opposes privatising THAI, spinning off units

Workers also oppose forced layoffs as speculation grows about how drastic reforms will be

THAI union president Nares Peung-yaem (centre left) submits a petition outlining the union’s views on rescuing the airline to Suporn Attakorn, an assistant to the Prime Minister’s Office minister, at Government House on Friday. (Photo by Chanat Katanyu)
THAI union president Nares Peung-yaem (centre left) submits a petition outlining the union’s views on rescuing the airline to Suporn Attakorn, an assistant to the Prime Minister’s Office minister, at Government House on Friday. (Photo by Chanat Katanyu)

The Thai Airways International union has made clear its stance against privatisation and spinning off potentially profitable units as part of a rescue plan for the ailing national carrier.

Union president Nares Peung-yaem on Friday said the union was determined to oppose any attempt to end the airline as a state enterprise or to shift away any business units.

He made the comment as the union submitted a letter to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha through Suporn Attawong, an assistant to the PM’s Office minister, at Government House on Friday.

The move took place on the same day that Gen Prayut held talks with ministers on details of a plan to rescue the financially crippled flag carrier. Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnveerakul, Transport Minister Saksiam Chidchob and his deputy, Tavorn Saenneam, took part in the talks.

Details of the meeting have not been disclosed.

The government had said earlier that it did not intend to bring in new private investors or do anything else that would reduce the state shareholding below 51%, the level required to keep its state-enterprise status. It is not clear whether senior political figures still hold this view.

The airline’s circumstances have grown even more dire in light of the collapse of travel amid the Covid-19 pandemic. THAI now needs funding just to get it through the next few months as it carries out a rehabilitation plan.

That funding, a bridge loan of 54 billion baht arranged by the Finance Ministry, could come with some very tough conditions.

A ministry source said on Wednesday that one of the conditions could include a reduction in the carrier’s headcount by 30-40%. 

THAI, with a fleet of 75 aircraft, has close to 22,000 employees on the payroll. By comparison, Singapore Airlines, for years the most successful carrier in the region, operates 136 planes and employs about 15,000 people.

The union has called for no forced layoffs and demanded that its representatives have a say in the rehabilitation plan, instead of leaving it to board members and executives to make the crucial decisions.

Gen Prayut said on Tuesday that the rescue package to rehabilitate the airline would be the last chance for THAI.

“If this is our last chance, we want to be part of the rescue,” Mr Nares said on Friday.

THAI is sitting on a pile of accumulated debt of almost 245 billion baht, according to Stock Exchange of Thailand data.

Plans to privatise the airline and run some units such as the catering service as separate entities have been mooted as a way to save the carrier from collapsing and making money for the company.

THAI has reported a profit only once since 2013, and that was a very modest 15 million baht in 2016. Over the past three years, it has recorded net losses exceeding 25 billion baht.

On Friday THAI asked the Stock Exchange of Thailand for permission to delay the submission of its financial results for the January-March quarter until Aug 14.

Market rules require results to be reported within 45 days after the end of each quarter.

THAI shares closed on Friday on the SET at 6.05 baht, down 35 satang (5.5%) in trade worth 69.3 million baht.


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