The deadlock over the 49-day-old strike by over 400 Air India pilots persisted today with the Government asserting that they have to return to work “unconditionally” and the pilots seeking Prime Minister’s intervention to end the crisis.
“We want them to come back. All they have to do is to come back unconditionally to work. They never gave a notice (of a strike). High Court said it is illegal. I don’t even know what the issues are. They don’t know themselves. What can we do?” Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh told reporters here.
The pilots, who went on a 48-hour hunger strike at Jantar Mantar here, alleged that the minister was speaking in one voice and the airline management in another.
“There is a clear disconnect between the two,” Tauseef Mukadam, joint secretary of the Indian Pilots Guild (IPG), which is spearheading the agitation, said.
They blamed the management for taking steps like grounding planes, which were leading the airline to lose market share.
“The failure of the management to resolve a minor labour issue is proof of the incompetence of the industrial relations department of Air India,” the IPG said in a statement.
They also demanded that the sack orders against 101 of their colleagues be withdrawn before they end the strike.
“We request the Hon’ble Prime Minister and the government to intervene in order to end the present impasse at the earliest,” it said.
The IPG, which has been de-recognised for leading the stir, claimed that 14 of the 20 Boeing 777 long-haul planes were on ground in Delhi, with the monthly payments for their parking, insurance and monthly payment instalments totalling about Rs 77 crore.
“Air India has lost close to Rs 154 crore on account of monthly payments for these grounded airplanes,” it claimed and asked “which management official will be held accountable for the colossal wastage of taxpayers’ money“.
The union also claimed that due to the continued stalemate, the airline has been able to sell only 1,000 seats each day, compared with 4,000 as per the summer schedule.
“In other words, in the last 50 days, Air India (international) has lost 75 per cent market share”, leading to a loss of revenue of over Rs 500 crore.
The Minister said that any Air India pilot - who is now on strike, or was sacked or faced action from the courts or referred to an Air Force doctor for calling in sick - was welcome to join back.
On a lighter note, Singh said, “They have the right to go on a hunger strike. It will be good for their health. It is 48 hours anyway.”
The IPG said, “On the one hand, the Minister says come back to work, on the other hand, they are talking about more terminations.”
Singh said his Ministry was reviewing all the routes to check where Air India was losing money. “We are considering even shutting them (flying on those routes) if we can’t improve (the service),” Singh said.
HC issues notice to Centre, Air India on pilots’ plea
The Delhi High Court today sought the stands of the Centre and the Air India on a petition by the pilots questioning the court’s authority to entertain the plea against their strike.
A vacation bench of Justice Pratibha Rani issued notices to the Centre and the Air India management on the plea, which sought to set aside the May 9, 2012 ex-parte order of the single-judge bench restraining them from going on strike.
“Where is the urgency? Just file the reply on July 13, the date already fixed for the matter. Notice be issued to the Air India and the Centre for July 13,” the bench said on the plea of pilots which questioned the jurisdiction of the Delhi High Court in entertaining the plea against their strike.
The Indian Pilots Guild (IPG), representing the pilots of original Air India, the entity prior to its merger with Indian Airlines, had approached the court seeking to set aside and vacate the single judge’s May 9 order.
The IPG, in its plea, sought to “set aside, vacate and discharge” the May 9, 2012 order, passed by single judge bench saying that Delhi High Court lacked jurisdiction as its office was in Mumbai.
“This court lacks jurisdiction to entertain this suit also in view that the dispute involved is squarely within the definition of industrial dispute under the provision of the Industrial Disputes Act,” the petition said.
On May 9, Justice Reva Khetrapal had restrained over 200 agitating Air India pilots from continuing their “illegal strike” after reporting sick and then staging demonstrations, a day after the airlines management sacked 10 pilots and derecognised their union.
Senior advocate Lalit Bhasin, who appeared for Air India, said the pilots cannot be heard as they were in “contempt“.
The bench also refused to give a hearing to the pilots saying there was no urgency and listed the matter for July 13.
The pilots were agitating over the rescheduling of Boeing 787 Dreamliner training and matters relating to their career progression under the banner of IPG.
The pilots had then challenged the single bench order before a division bench which on May 17 had dismissed their plea saying they cannot “wilfully and flagrantly” disobey court orders.
The division bench, however, had granted liberty to the IPG to move before single judge bench for modification of its previous order.
The single judge bench of Justice Reva Khetrapal, in its May 9 order, had said that allowing such strike by the pilots to continue will cause irreparable loss to the company as well as huge inconvenience to the passengers.
The Air India management had earlier moved the Delhi High Court seeking an order restraining the pilots from going on strike.
A section of Air India pilots owing allegiance to IPG had gone on strike from May 8 following failure of talks with the AI management.
Resenting the management’s stand, over 200 pilots had joined the IPG agitation by going on sick leave in the midst of their talks to end the stalemate.