Delhi High Court restrains unions from continuing protest

The two-day strike by a section of Air India employees was called off on Wednesday, and there are indications that normal operations will be restored in two or three days.

“At the intervention of the Chief Labour Commissioner (CLC) and in the interest of the travelling public, we are calling off our spontaneous, flash strike with immediate effect. We are communicating to our rank and file to join duty immediately,” Air Corporation Employees Union (ACEU) general secretary J. B. Kadian told journalists after a meeting with CLC S.K. Mukhopadhyay.

The meeting lasted more than two hours.

He said the engineering staff would also report for duty immediately.

The strike came within two days of an Air India plane crash at Mangalore, killing 158 people, including the six-member crew.

Earlier in the day, the Delhi High Court restrained the airline employees from continuing the strike. The National Aviation Company of India Limited (NACIL), which operates Air India, rushed to the Mumbai and Delhi High Courts, seeking directions for an end to the agitation.

Air India Chairman-cum-Managing Director Arvind Jadhav said it would take three or four days for normality to be restored, and the carrier planned to operate 78 flights on Thursday. Taking a tough stand against the strikers, the management issued termination notices to 17 employees and suspended 15 others.

Air India officials said nearly 140 flights, mostly in the domestic sector, could not be operated because of the strike since Tuesday.

The strike, they said, dealt a blow to the cash-strapped carrier, causing it a loss of nearly Rs. 12 crore and also affected the travel plans of thousands of passengers who remained stranded in major cities.

An estimated 20,000 engineers and ground staff had struck work since Tuesday, protesting against the delay in the payment of May salary and a “gag order” by the management to prevent them from going public with their problems. The order, the management maintained, was issued way back in July last as a general circular.

Though the Mumbai High Court declined to pass any order on the NACIL's suit for an injunction against the ACEU and the All-India Aircraft Engineers Association, which spearheaded the strike, the Delhi High Court directed the unions not to continue with the strike and also not to go on strike afresh from May 31 in terms of the May 14 notice. “For the May 14 strike notice, conciliation proceedings will be held on May 28,” Mr. Kadian told reporters.

Employee representatives and Air India officials held one round of talks. but the standoff continued.