As the Air India pilots’ agitation entered the 18th day, Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh on Friday met some of them for the first time. He insisted they resume duty without delay.
Meanwhile, the agitation got another setback when the Bombay High Court asked the striking union to comply with the Delhi HC order restraining them from continuing their "illegal strike" before sorting out issues with the management. That was on a hearing of the arguments on an order by the Air India management derecognising the union and sealing its premises
Five members of the Indian Pilots’ Guild (IPG), the union spearheading the stir, called on Singh at the ministry's headquarters here and held a meeting, also attended by Rohit Nandan, chairman and managing director of the government-owned airline.
“We reiterated the stand of the government that it is an illegal strike. It has caused untold misery to passengers. Air India has lost much and, therefore, they should come back to work immediately,” Singh told reporters after the meeting.
He added the pilots began their agitation without serving a notice and reported sick when they were not. The minister is understood to have told the pilots that the ailing airline had suffered a great deal, not only in terms of financial losses but also on its image and people's confidence in it.
A PTI report quoted him as saying the airline may hire new pilots if they refuse to end their agitation soon.
Sources said Singh indicated the process to revoke dismissal orders on pilots would begin when they resumed duty. A total of 101 pilots owing allegiance to the IPG have so far been been dimissed.
IPG sources said they’d be meeting this evening to take stock of the discussions with the minister and decide what to do.
Earlier, in a letter to Singh, the IPG had sought an appointment, saying they wanted to present their case. The union’s stir is against the airline’s decision to allow erstwhile Indian Airlines (IA) pilots to operate the new Dreamliner planes. The IPG (it represents those who were pilots of AI before the merger with the ersstwhile Indian Airlines) objected; it also wanted its members’ career progression and time-bound promotions to be the same as those of pilots from the erstwhile IA, who got a commander’s grade in six years, while it took 10 years in the erstwhile AI.
The strike has so far caused an estimated loss of Rs 250 crore to AI, which has been curtailed international operations as part of a contingency plan to remain effective till June 30. Under this interim schedule, AI operates 38 international flights per day instead of the 45 under normal conditions.
Mumbai HC rap
As for the development in the Bombay HC, a PTI report quoted a vacation bench of judges S J Kathawala and P D Kode saying on a hearing of an IPG petition challenging its derecognition: "You (IPG) may have problems but first comply with the Delhi High Court order. Then you can go sort out your issues. You cannot harass the general public like this."
IPG has moved the Bombay High Court against an order passed by the Air India (AI) management derecognising the body and sealing its premises.