Mumbai: The Indian Pilots’ Guild (IPG), which represents a section of national carrier Air India Ltd’s (AI) pilots, said it is close to ending a 58-day-old strike, following intervention by the Delhi high court that advised both the parties to opt for an out-of-court settlement on Monday.
IPG president Jitendra Awhad said the pilots are withdrawing the strike as instructed by the court, adding that other matters are sub judice. He said the airline management has agreed to reinstate the terminated pilots but declined to divulge details.
According to a statement issued by civil aviation minister Ajit Singh on Tuesday, the striking Air India pilots will call off the strike immediately and those who are in service will join duty within 48 hours in line with the commitment made in the Delhi high court.
Singh said the government was always willing to consider the grievances of the pilots, including reinstatement of those who have been sacked for going on strike. He said the high court direction on the strike endorsed the views of the government that the pilots should call off the strike unconditionally and report to duty before any talks could be held on their grievances.
Seeking reconciliation: Air India’s pilots sitting on a hunger strike in New Delhi. Photo: AP
“Calling off the strike is a process. It will be followed by various steps,” said Tauseef Mukadam, IPG joint secretary.
Mukadam said IPG was fighting a case in the high court against the “illegal termination of pilots”. “IPG will also file an affidavit in the high court on 5 July and this will be followed by a reconciliation meeting with the chief labour commissioner on 6 July,” Mukadam said.
Another IPG member said the union will issue a formal statement on Wednesday as the Air India management agreed to look at “all the demands of the guild sympathetically”.
An Air India spokesperson declined to offer any comment for the story.
Though the union is calling off its strike, experts said it will take more time for passengers to return to the airline as its credibility had taken a beating.
Currently, Air India is the last option for a passenger making travel plans, according to Regi Philip, who runs Cosmos Agencies, a Mumbai-based travel agency.
However, Philip said there were still takers as the carrier offers fares lower than those of its rivals.
Air India has a history of dropping fares by 10% immediately after a strike is over to win back passengers and experts see the state-owned carrier resorting to such action again.
Air India’s market share slipped to 16.2% in May from 17.6% in April.
IPG members, who fly wide-bodied planes to international destinations, had originally gone on strike demanding that training on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner jet planes that the carrier is getting be restricted to pilots belonging to the erstwhile Air India, which merged in 2007 with state-run Indian Airlines to form a new entity called National Aviation Co. of India Ltd, which was later renamed Air India Ltd.
Air India had deregistered IPG as a trade union and sacked 101 pilots in what is the largest-ever strike in the history of the carrier. Around 420 of the 450 pilots registered with IPG have been on strike and some of them have been on a hunger strike for more than one week.
The civil aviation ministry and the airline management said they would talk to the pilots only if they called off their strike unconditionally.
Although the striking pilots stuck to their original demand of sole Boeing 787 flying rights planes, they later diluted their stance saying pilots were willing to resume duty if those who had been sacked were reinstated.
According to consultancy firm, Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, or Capa, a key concern is the fact that at this critical juncture, the management of Air India could be set for change at the most senior levels, including the position of chairman and managing director.
Uttar Pradesh cadre IAS officer Rohit Nandan assumed charge as chairman and managing director of Air India on 12 August, 2011. “Up to 16 executive directors are due to retire over the next 12 months. The new team could be faced with a highly charged and complex situation. Similarly, the board has not been strengthened following a couple of high profile non-executive departures last year, while there will be new appointments in a number of senior government roles as well,” Capa said in a 27 June report.
This is compounded by the the fact nobody is taking ownership of the turnaround plan for Air India, which in itself is unrealistic and unachievable without the resolution of personnel issues, the report cautioned.
For the last two years, Capa has strongly advocated that Air India should be placed under special administration, similar to that adopted for Satyam Computer Services Ltd, if any meaningful progress is to be achieved.