People look on as aircraft are seen from the window of a terminal at Yangon International Airport. (AFP)
People look on as aircraft are seen from the window of a terminal at Yangon International Airport. (AFP)

‘We can arrest you at any time’: police intimidate staff from grounded national carrier

Police have been making regular visits to a housing complex where staff from Myanmar National Airlines live since they grounded the national carrier by joining the Civil Disobedience Movement.

By FRONTIER

Staff from state-owned Myanmar National Airlines say police are paying nightly visits to their housing complex in an effort to intimidate and force them back to work.

The airline had to halt relief flights and scheduled domestic services after more than half of its staff joined the Civil Disobedience Movement targeting the military regime. 

“They came to the Department of Civil Aviation housing to threaten staff, saying things like, ‘We can arrest you at any time.’ They came to the housing complex every night. Staff are really concerned about it,” said a member of MNA ground staff, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Police arrived at the Mingalardon Township complex, near Yangon International Airport, around 11pm last night and stayed for a short period, the person said.

The ground staff member told Frontier that aviation police had on February 9 asked management for a list of staff who have joined the CDM.

“The company hasn’t given us any pressure yet for joining the CDM but it did call some staff to tell them to return to work, and they have refused their requests,” they said. 

The first staff walked off the job on February 3 and around 60 percent are now refusing to work, including supervisors, ground staff, cabin crew and the maintenance and engineering team, sources at the airline confirmed.

The loss of the maintenance and engineering team has been particularly damaging, as it is needed to ensure the airline’s planes are safe for take-off.

The airline was forced to halt international relief flights on February 6 and scheduled domestic flights on February 10 because of a lack of critical staff, the sources said.

A cabin crew member, who also asked not to be identified, told Frontier on February 16 that many staff joined the CDM because they don’t want to work under a military government.

Although MNA was corporatised in 2014 and has significantly overhauled its fleet and improved operating standards, staff said it is still “under the influence” of the Ministry of Transport and Communications. Because it is not independently run, they worry the military junta that took power on February 1 will interfere in their operations. 

The person added that MNA had been in the process of transforming into a public company but it was unclear whether that would continue in the wake of the coup. 

“We will fight to bring down the dictator. We will not work together with the military. We don’t want it,” said the cabin crew member.

Junta leader Senior General Min Aung has regularly mentioned that bringing home Myanmar nationals stranded abroad is a high priority for his administration, but with MNA grounded he has had to rely on privately owned airlines rather than the national carrier. 

Myanmar Airways International, which was formerly owned by Kanbawza Group but is now controlled by a little-known Myanmar company, 24 Hour Group, is continuing to operate international relief flights.

It is also operating charter flights from China that activists have accused of ferrying equipment and technicians to implement curbs on internet access. Both the Tatmadaw and the Chinese government have rejected the allegations, with a Chinese business group saying the flights were carrying cargo, including seafood.

Meanwhile, 24 Hour Group’s domestic airline, Air KBZ, is still operating scheduled domestic flights, alongside several other local carriers.

MAI management have warned staff not to join anti-military demonstrations, according to a letter seen by Frontier.

“Do not protest as individual or groups at the International Airport building and airside,” the letter said.

MNA staff have been encouraging workers at other airlines to join the movement against the military but without success

“We have urged staff at MAI but so far they refused to join the CDM,” said the cabin crew member.

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