Philippine Airlines workers refuse to end strike MANILA, Nov 1 (AFP)

Ground employees of Philippine Airlines (PAL) Friday defied a government order to end a three-day strike that has stranded thousands of passengers.

"We have no plans to return to work. We will fight them to the bitter end," said Abel Capili, a board member of the PAL Employees Association (PALEA).

The strike was mounted Wednesday over wage increases and job security.

Capili's reaction came hours after the Labour Department ordered the striking workers to end their action by midday Friday, and threatened to dismiss those who refused to return to work.

Acting Labour Secretary Cresencio Trajano, who is mediating the dispute, issued the "return to work" order late Thursday after mediation talks failed.

Capili told AFP the union had not received an official copy of the Labour Department's order and had only read about it in newspaper reports.

As the deadline passed, there were no signs of workers returning to their posts.

Operations at the Manila international and domestic airports remained hampered Friday as only a skeleton workforce were on hand, airport officials said.

PALEA groups PAL's ground employees, including mechanics, cargo handlers, maintenance crew and ticket counter workers.

Airline pilots, flight attendants and cabin crew have not joined the strike.

Sixteen international flights left Manila on Friday and nine flights arrived, a duty officer at the airport ground operations center told AFP.

The officer said seven departing flights and nine arriving flights of PAL were cancelled.

"There are some people but it's only a skeleton force so the work is slow and flights are expected to be delayed," he said.

Trajano ordered the airline's management to accept the return of striking workers without sanctions as a goodwill gesture.

The strikers are pressing for higher wages and other benefits, accusing management, led by ethnic Chinese tycoon Lucio Tan, of focusing efforts on a 3.2-billion-dollar refleeting and modernization program.

Management has defended the refleeting and modernization program, saying they are crucial to turning around the loss-making national flag carrier.

Strikers were also protesting a company policy of contracting out services like engine repair and catering, which they fear will lead to mass layoffs.