Bolstered by the backing of members of the Lok Sabha who called upon striking Air India pilots to go back to work, Union Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh said the government was open to any discussion and declared the Dharmadhikari Committee report would be implemented for making the airline competitive.

While the opposition members wanted the government to unconditionally invite the striking pilots to the table, Mr. Singh while replying to the debate categorically stated that the management would not be vindictive towards the pilots but urged them to return back to work in view of the inconvenience being suffered by the passengers in the peak holiday season. Basudeo Acharia (Communist Party of India-Marxist), Gurudas Dasgupta (Communist Party of India) and Lalu Prasad (Rashtriya Janata Dal), among others, made it clear that they did not favour the wildcat strike but at the same time urged Mr. Singh to unconditionally invite the pilots for a dialogue and resolve the matter. Of paramount importance was is the need to relieve the convenience caused to the passengers who were out to enjoy their vacations.

Rs. 150 crore loss

Underscoring Air India had lost Rs. 150 crore during the last eight days of the strike, Mr. Singh hoped the pilots would abide by the High Court ruling declaring the strike illegal and hoped they would return to work immediately. “All grievances will be heard but go back to work.” He said the strike had dented the credibility of Air India and hoped the pilots would also realise their responsibility towards the company, passengers and other staff who would all lose their jobs if the company sank. Mr. Singh also questioned the need for such a strike when the pilots were aware that the Justice D.M. Dharmadhikari report was under the active consideration of the government. Over the next two to three months, the report would be implemented in consultation with all unions.

Data being collected

The government was collecting data on the impact of implementation of the report on pilots and engineers and other staff, he said, underlining the need for adherence to industry norms of cost, performance and strength of work force. Mr. Singh said the Rs. 30000 crore eight-year package would be released only on the basis of recovery of the airline on the parameters of performance and standards set. “We cannot keep on pumping public money in this. This is the last chance. The cooperation of the pilots is necessary.” The bone of contention was over training and flying the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, he said, and pointed out that the court's ruling in the matter would be final.

The management had agreed to pay their arrears while it was not possible to accept their conditions for promotion and allow them to fly first class when not on duty.

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