There was no end in sight to the 49-day-old Air India pilots strike with the government today making it clear that they have to return to work "unconditionally" and the pilots insisting that sack orders be withdrawn immediately.
"We want them to come back (to work). All they have to do is to come back unconditionally to work. They never gave a notice (of going on strike). High Court has said it is illegal. I don't even know what the issues are. They don't know themselves. So, what can we do?" Aviation Minister Ajit Singh said.
The pilots, who are on a 48-hour hunger strike 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 India Pilots Guild spearheading the agitation, told reporters.
"On the one hand, the minister says come back to work, on the other hand they are talking about more terminations. There is a disconnect between what the minister says and what the management is doing," he said.
Singh said the ministry is reviewing all the routes to check where Air India is losing money.
"We are considering even shutting them (flying on those routes) if we can't improve (the service)," he said.
He maintained that any Air India pilot- who is on strike, or was sacked or faced action from the courts or referred to a Air Force doctor for calling in sick- is welcome to join back.
On a lighter note, Singh said, "They have the right to go on hunger strike. It will be good for their health. It is (only) for 48 hours anyways."
The pilots' representative maintained that the agitation could have been resolved in "three-four days" and not continued for 50 days had the government talked to them.
Mukadam alleged that the government is making "insensitive statements".
"The strike has led to mounting losses of Rs 500 Crore to Air India. Instead of flying 4,000 seats per day it is flying only 1,000. There has been loss of revenue also as out of 20 Boeing 777, 14 are parked in Delhi and not being flown," he said.
He demanded that the terminations should be withdrawn before the pilots are asked to end their strike.