The strike by Air India pilots disrupt 90 per cent of domestic operations

As the strike by State-owned Air India pilots entered the sixth day, the government on Monday refused to talk to them till they called off their agitation.

“I have already stated that there will be no talks as long as the pilots are on strike. They have to call off their strike first and then come for talks. There is no change in the position,” Civil Aviation Minister Vayalar Ravi, who briefed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh earlier in the day about the situation, told reporters on Monday.

Mr. Ravi said the striking pilots were also facing contempt of court proceedings, initiated on the plea of the Air India management by the Delhi High Court.

“The court has adjourned the matter till Tuesday. We will wait for the court orders and abide by whatever it directs,” he said.

The High Court heard the striking pilots, owing allegiance to the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA), and the management and adjourned the matter for Tuesday.

Demanding pay parity with their colleagues of the erstwhile Air India, better working conditions, removal of Air India Chairman and Managing Director Arvind Jadhav and a CBI inquiry into alleged withdrawal of flights on profitable routes, pilots of the erstwhile Indian Airlines went on strike on April 26.

Replying to questions, Mr. Ravi said the Air India management was working under him and asserted that there was no question of “surrendering” to the striking pilots.

“Till today, I have not received any memorandum of demands from the pilots. I had met them in March, the Chief Labour Commissioner (CLC) held six meetings with them and the management held seven meetings, where the issue relating to wage parity was discussed. We agreed to a third party deciding it and the Justice Dharmadhikari committee with two other experts was set up. It will take five months to give its report on issues of integration and salary structure. What can I do till then” he asked.

Mr. Ravi said issues of flying hours, free passages for the family and wage parity would be dealt with by the committee. “All of a sudden, the pilots go on strike in an utterly irresponsible manner. I held meetings with all the unions, I think they like me and I also trust my workers. I have nothing against anyone, but so far they are on strike, we will not talk to them,” he said.

Air India's domestic operations came to a virtual standstill in the wake of the strike. With all eyes on the Delhi High Court judgment, Air India has stopped taking domestic bookings for a few more days.

The carrier is also transferring its passengers on to other airlines without charging them anything extra.

The Minister said the Directorate-General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) called a meeting of private carriers on Monday and asked them to refrain from charging exorbitant fares.

“All carriers have been directed not to exploit the situation and inconvenience passengers,” he said.

The strike disrupted 90 per cent of the domestic operations, though flights by its subsidiaries Alliance Air and Air India Express on the regional and international sectors, including the Gulf, operated normally.

The management has derecognised the ICPA and sacked nine pilots, including ICPA president Captain A.S. Bhinder and its general secretary, Captain Rishabh Kapur, over the last week. Six pilots have been suspended.

On efforts to trace the Pawan Hans helicopter in which Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu and four others were travelling from Tawang to Itanagar, the Minister said so far no concrete information was available on their whereabouts.

Pawan Hans operations from 15 helipads in the northeastern region have been kept in abeyance.

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