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Passengers suffer as Air India pilots’ strike enters day two

New Delhi: Air passengers continued to suffer as the strike by some 600 pilots of the erstwhile Indian Airlines, now co-opted into Air India, entered the second day Thursday, in defiance of the stay ordered by the Delhi High Court.

Air India officials said some 30 flights were likely to be cancelled Thursday mainly out of the national capital and Mumbai over and above some 50 that were either grounded or re-scheduled a day earlier.

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.

They also demanded that the airline reinstate the six pilots who were sacked and two others who were suspended Wednesday, and want the union to be recognised again and its offices de-sealed.

Appeals by Civil Aviation Minister Vayalar Ravi and Air India chairman and managing director Arvind Jadhav, asking pilots to end the strike and come to the negotiating table, were in vain.

“We have decided to rope in 150 management pilots to keep the operations as smooth as possible,” a spokesperson for Air India said, referring to the senior executive pilots who are now also tasked with administrative duties.

But the striking staff members said some of these pilots had reported sick Thursday.
The civil aviation ministry has decided to fully back the Air India management and the minister said a section of the pilots, whatever be their grievances, cannot hold the carrier to ransom, especially when it is going through difficult times.

Ravi said the pilots should work with the expert committee constituted 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 had started its work Monday

Chairman Jadhav even wrote a strong letter to the 35,000 employees of the carrier 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?”

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.

Wednesday also saw the Delhi High Court slamming the Air India management for turning a blind eye to the demands of pilots for some two decades.

“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 would consider moving the Supreme Court to seek redressal.

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