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Court stays Air India pilots' strike that grounded 50 flights

Wednesday April 27, 2011 08:42:32 PM, IANS

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New Delhi/Mumbai: The Delhi High Court Wednesday stayed the flash strike by 600 pilots of Air India who were co-opted from the erstwhile Indian Airlines but not before slamming the management for not addressing their demands for some two decades.


The court's decision came even as nearly 50 flights, mainly out of the national capital and Mumbai, had to be cancelled or rescheduled due to the strike since Tuesday midnight, causing inconvenience to thousands of air travellers in the country.

"For the past 21-years, you are unable to sort out the problems. That means something is lacking on your part. Because of this even the families and children of these pilots are suffering," Justice Gita Mittal told the counsel for Air India.

"The pilots are hereby restrained from continuing with their strike or resorting to any demonstration, as the larger public interest is involved," the judge said. The order was delivered after Air India's counsel took up the matter before the single-member bench.

Justice Mittal said the case will come up for hearing again May 16. But the pilots said they will continue with their agitation, and were considering moving the Supreme Court to seek redressal.

The pilots of the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA), once on the payroll of erstwhile Indian Airlines, struck work demanding parity in pay with their counterparts in Air India and other issues related to work conditions.

To keep the operations running and cause minimum hardship to passengers, the Air India management decided to rope in 150 management pilots, or executive pilots, to operate the flights.

"In the event of flight disruptions, cancellation, combination or delay of more than one hour, full refund would be effected to the passengers," the carrier said in a statement, regretting the inconvenience caused.

Taken by surprise by the pilots' sudden decision, Civil Aviation Minister Vayalar Ravi summoned the chairman and managing director of National Aviation Co of India Ltd, Arvind Jadhav, to New Delhi to discuss how to resolve the impasse.

Addressing a press conference later, he said the national carrier cannot be backmailed.

"When we have constituted a committee to look into the-pay parity issue and most of the 35,000 employees are co-operating and giving their demands in writing, how can these pilots hold the company to ransom," Ravi asked.

His reference was to the constitution of an expert committee under a retired Supreme Court judge, Justice C.S. Dharamadhikari, to examine employee issues such as pay parity between the staff of the two airlines. This panel started work Monday.

The Air India management also referred to the committee and said the pilots had given an assurance to the court that they will not resort to such agitation. The airline also de-recognised the union, sealed its offices, sacked six members and suspended two others.

"The sacking of six pilots is the right decision. Nobody can dictate terms to the government," Ravi said.

But the pilots said they had been left with no option but to resort to the strike. "It is the management that has forced us. We are the third union to get derecognised," said the association's general secretary Capt. Rishab Kapoor.

While the association members apologised to passengers, the inconvenience caused to them left them fuming -- like 24-year-old Nithi Nigam, who had to travel from Delhi to Mumbai but had no clue that his flight had been cancelled.

"It's shocking. There was no information from the airline. I arrived here at T3 terminal and got to know that the flight has been cancelled. There are others as well who had to face a similar situation," Nigam told IANS.

Similarly, scores of passengers, especially those from Mumbai who were bound for various destinations for a vacation, were compelled to tinker with their travel plans. They were seen making frantic inquiries with private airlines, which were already running full.

Earlier in the day, Jadhav had written a strong letter to the 35,000 employees of Air India, and said the striking pilots were behaving irresponsibly and were unconcerned about inconvenience caused to passengers, especially in these testing times.

"Why are some pilots being impatient, being irresponsible, being unreasonable and being adamant on tarnishing the image of the company and being totally unconcerned towards the convenience of our esteemed patrons and passengers?"





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