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Air India pilots call off 58-day strike

Management says it would consider the reinstatement of sacked pilots ?sympathetically?, but does not give any assurance

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Around 450 pilots of who fly international routes called off their agitation on Tuesday, after 58 days — one of the longest strikes in India’s aviation history. The informed the that it would call off the strike and that its members would join duty in 48 hours.

The Air India management told the court it would “sympathetically” consider the reinstatement of the 101 sacked pilots, but did not give any assurance that all would be taken back.

The end of the stir apart, it would take a while for Air India to restore normalcy in operations. For, all the pilots have to now undergo medical examination at an Air Force establishment. Pilots will also have to do simulator training as they have not been flying for almost two months.

Air India, which has 21 wide-bodied aircraft, has been using only seven airplanes of late. In other words, it has been offering only 5,400 seats a day instead of the normal 10,000. The strike is estimated to have left Air India suffering a Rs 600-crore revenue loss.

Late on Tuesday evening, pilots announced the withdrawal of the strike. The union’s petition against dismissal of pilots is coming up for hearing in the Bombay High Court tomorrow, and it is waiting for the outcome of the case. “We are complying with the order,” an IPG office-bearer said. “We have to join duty in 48 hours.”

If a solution to the pilots’ strike had eluded till now, it was because of an uncompromising stance on both sides.

A breakthrough, eventually, came on an intervention of the Delhi High Court. On Monday, judge Reva Khetrapal of the court had asked Air India to adopt a “paternal attitude”, and directed lawyers on both sides to arrive at a settlement.

To this, the IPG offered the olive branch to the management when its counsel informed the court that the union would call off the strike and pilots would join duties in 48 hours. The pilots have been asked to submit an affidavit and joining reports to the court.

Air India’s counsel informed the court that the airline would, on withdrawal of strike, sympathetically consider all the grievances, including reinstatement of sacked pilots.

Last Friday, the court had directed both the sides to report to chief labour commissioner’s office for conciliation of all pending issues including sacking of pilots and career progression and sought a report of Monday’s meeting.

IPG has been on strike since May 7 over the issue of training on . The trigger for the strike was the selection of pilots from erstwhile Indian Airlines to train on the Boeing 787 planes.

IPG joint secretary said the organisation has decided to call off the strike. “With the conciliation process, we are hopeful that our grievances will be met,” he added.

Luthra said the court had taken a positive and pragmatic view. “It is also supervising the matter, and has asked for a report of conciliation process,” she told Business Standard.

Civil aviation minister Ajit Singh expressed the hope that the striking would call off the strike immediately, join duty within 48 hours. The government is always willing to consider the grievances of the pilots, including reinstatement of the terminated pilots, he added.

Till now, conciliation attempts at the labour commissioner’s office were fruitless. Negotiations to end the strike, too, did not materialise. Other labour unions and executive pilots tried to mediate but civil aviation minister Ajit Singh took a tough stance against the pilots and gave no guarantee on reinstating the ten committee members of the IPG. Absence of talks took the matter to a dead end, and a feeling of fatigue set in among the pilots.

The Air India management and civil aviation ministry’s stance in dealing with Air India pilots now was in sharp contrast with its stance during the another such pilots’ strike last year. While it sacked pilots from Indian Commercial Pilots Associations and derecognised the union in May 2011, this time it actively negotiated the issue with the striking pilots and worked out an settlement to end the crisis in ten days. The ICPA’s demands on career progression were accepted in six months.

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