New Delhi: The government will take “stern steps” and take action if workers of Indian, the nation’s third biggest domestic carrier, don’t call off their strike, said civil aviation minister Praful Patel. The carrier has suspended 23 workers because of the strike, which will widen the airline’s losses, he said.
The state-owned carrier cancelled flights and reported delays as more than 12,000 workers went on strike demanding higher wages and better work opportunities rejecting an offer made by the airline’s management.
The workers, including ticketing and baggage-handling staff, went on strike after talks on Tuesday night with management were inconclusive, said Ashok Sharma, a spokesman for the state-owned airline, in a phone interview. The striking employees represent about two-thirds of its workforce.
The strike could further erode the New Delhi-based carrier’s market share as more people choose to fly Deccan Aviation Ltd and other low-fare airlines in India. The government has promised to merge Indian Airlines with Air India Ltd, also state-owned, by July to help it fight private carriers and protect jobs.
“It’s not a healthy thing to have happened at this point of time, given the fact that the merger between the two companies is under way,” said Surbhi Chawla, an analyst at Angel Broking Ltd in Mumbai.
Many flights have been reported cancelled or delayed across India, Sharma said. It was not clear late evening how many flights had been affected in Mumbai alone; some 28 flights had been cancelled or rescheduled. Indian operates 320 flights daily. There has been “some impact on international flights” too, Sharma added. One Chennai to Singapore flight has been cancelled.
“We want the matter to be solved before the merger of the two companies,” said J.K. Badola, a general secretary for the Air Corporation Employees Union, the biggest of the airline’s seven unions. “Wage revisions for the last 10 years are pending and workers haven’t got their dues.”
The Indian management has offered wage arrears since 2001 which will cost the company about Rs270 crore. But workers are demanding they be compensated for 10 years, a decision that could cost the airline Rs450 crore.
Tarun Shukla of Mint contributed to this story.