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They also demanded that the sack orders against 101 of their colleagues be withdrawn before they end the strike.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.