The government on Wednesday expressed readiness to talk to agitating Air India pilots, but warned that if they resorted to such actions repeatedly, no public money would be infused in the ailing carrier for its revival.
“If you have grievances, we can talk, (but) discussions and disruptions cannot take place simultaneously. They should withdraw strike and apologise to passengers,” Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh told reporters outside the Parliament House as the strike by Air India pilots entered the second day.
Around 200 Air India pilots owing allegiance to Indian Pilots Guild (IPG) had reported sick on Tuesday resulting in cancellation of about 20 international flights. The pilots have been protesting against rescheduling of Boeing 787 Dreamliner training.
Mr. Singh said agitating pilots reported sick, even when it was well known that they were not.
Admitting that pilots are the most important group in any airlines and could even shut down carriers if they want, Mr. Singh said pilots should understand their responsibilities as well.
“Air India is almost bankrupt. (It) is not able to pay salaries for months, not paid to airport authority and oil marketing companies,” he said, adding the government is trying to revive Air India by infusing Rs. 30,000 crore of “public money” over a period of time, but there were strings attached.
He said that the Justice Dharmadhikari report on integration of workforce of erstwhile Air India and Indian Airlines including promotions, would be discussed in a month or two and pilots would be actively involved.
As the report would be implemented, Mr. Singh said many more questions would come up and “if you keep striking on such issues every three months, then we are not ready to invest public money in Air India”.
The minister also said the government has “a back-up plan (to deal with strike)...We can downsize...If employees are not interested that Air India should expand, then government is not going to provide money to it.”
On Air India moving court against the agitation, Mr. Singh said that everything that was required would be done.