New Delhi/Mumbai: Neither Jet Airways (India) Ltd nor its striking pilots blinked on Friday, and the high-profile dispute between them is likely to leave passengers in the lurch for a fifth day on Saturday.
The action will move from New Delhi to Mumbai when the two sides resume negotiations at SM Centre, Jet Airways’ headquarters in the city.
Both the airline and the pilots kept hopes of a settlement alive in separate statements.
Mediation moves: Chief labour commissioner S.K. Mukhopadhyay (left) during a meeting with Jet officials and pilots in New Delhi on Friday. Vijay Verma /Mint.
“The talks will now resume in Mumbai. We are hopeful that this pilot stand-off will be over by tomorrow,” said Girish Kaushik, president of the National Aviator’s Guild (NAG), the newly-formed union for pilots at Jet Airways.
“I am an eternal optimist. I was hoping that talks would end today,” Jet Airways executive director Saroj K. Datta said, while denying that his company has decided to reinstate the sacked pilots. “No agreements have been signed as yet.”
Jet’s pilots did not show up for work on Tuesday in response to the sacking of two pilots who were the prime movers of the new pilot union. Two others pilots were also subsequently sacked.
The New Delhi negotiations—called by the country’s chief labour commissioner— ended in a stalemate because neither side agreed to budge on these two issues.
Politicians such as Congress parliamentarian Sanjay Nirupam were also in the negotiating fray.
On Friday, Jet Airways cancelled 255 flights, including 210 domestic services and 45 international ones, as 489 out of its 760 Indian pilots reported sick. It could ferry only 7,800 domestic passengers against an average 23,000 a day and 9,200 international passengers against 10,500 a day.
In a press conference on Thursday, Nirupam said Jet Airways’ founder-chairman Naresh Goyal’s threat to shut the airline was completely unacceptable as it “was not his personal property”, but owned by shareholders and an employer of 13,000 Indians.
On late Thursday night, there were hopes of a settlement, as Nirupam met Goyal and Datta along with Jet counsel Harish Salve to work out a way to end the four-day confrontation. Through a teleconference, pilots (in Mumbai) and Jet’s management (which was camping in New Delhi) agreed on certain terms and conditions to end the stalemate.
Around the same time, Girish Kaushik, president of the pilots’ guild, said that the airline management had agreed to reinstate the sacked pilots and was ready to modify some of the terms and conditions in the preliminary deal on the suggestion of the union.
But the deal fell apart a few hours later, because Jet insisted the pilots’ union should either be dissolved or should continue with certain restrictions on its ability to disrupt flights, a senior Jet executive said on Friday evening.
In the Friday meeting in New Delhi, Datta and Jet’s vice-president (projects and regulatory affairs) K. Mohan represented the airline, while Kaushik and NAG’s joint secretary Sam Thomas represented the pilots at the office of chief labour commissioner S.K. Mukhopadhyay.
On the reports of Jet Airways and the pilots agreeing to end the four-day stalemate, shares of the airline rose by 1.64% on the Bombay Stock Exchange to close at Rs257.40 on Friday in a flat market.