Mumbai: The Delhi high court has issued a contempt notice to striking pilots of Air India Ltd for refusing to obey the court’s directions to report back to work on 9 May. If the pilots are found to be in contempt, they may face a three-month prison term.
The pilots have to reply to the notice by 13 July, said Lalit Bhasin, counsel for Air India and managing partner of Bhasin and Co. “This does not mean that they can strike work till 13 June. If their contempt is upheld, every day of strike will compound the gravity of the issue. The high court can also propose a criminal contempt on striking pilots,” he said.
Wait continues: Passengers wait outside the booking office at Mumbai airport. The pilots’ strike at the state-run national carrier entered the 16th day on Wednesday, with the revenue loss thus far put at Rs 250 crore by the airline.
The court has issued notices to 68 pilots who have reported sick after the order, Air India said in a statement.
A section of pilots belonging to trade union Indian Pilots’ Guild (IPG) said that they will reply to the notice and alleged Rs 4,325 crore of financial irregularities at Air India related to leasing of aircraft. Air India declined to comment on the allegation.
The pilots’ strike at the state-run national carrier entered the 16th day on Wednesday, with the revenue loss thus far put at Rs 250 crore by the airline. Air India has cancelled almost all long-haul international flights and deregistered the guild.
The carrier has drawn up an interim schedule for the 2 June to 30 June period that has 38 international flights a day instead of 45 operated in normal conditions. The regular destinations not covered in the interim schedule are Hong Kong, Osaka, Seoul and Toronto. All domestic operations of Air India follow the normal schedule. IPG has demanded that training on Boeing 787 Dreamliner jets be restricted to pilots belonging to the erstwhile Air India, which merged in 2007 with state-run Indian Airlines to create National Aviation Co. of India Ltd, later renamed Air India Ltd.
The merger between Air India and Indian Airlines is defined by the fact that the most critical issue, namely that of the integration of human resources, was poorly handled and almost wilfully ignored, with nobody within the airline’s senior management or the government having taken responsibility, said consulting firm Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation or Capa.
“This has been a constant source of tension within employee ranks and after years of neglect a committee was established in 2011 under Justice Dharmadhikari to look into staff grievances. The committee submitted its report to the ministry of civil aviation in early 2012,” Capa said in a report released on Tuesday. “In the absence of any strategy of its own to deal with the issues at hand, the government is left with virtually no option but to implement the report’s recommendations.”
Capa expects that the outcomes of the crisis will meet with a mixed response from the unions and industrial action is likely. “The government appears to be preparing to adopt a firm stance, limiting discussions with the unions and it may not shy away from a watershed moment in the next two-to-three months after the report is accepted by the government, which could include a temporary shutdown of the airline,” Capa said.
Tauseef Mukadam, joint secretary of the guild, said neither civil aviation ministry officials nor Air India management were trying to resolve the issue.
“This agitation is in its 16th day. Despite all our efforts to reach out to the Air India management, thus far they have refused to respond. Instead of responding to our overtures, the management has further terminated 30 more pilots, taking the total of terminated pilots up to 101,” Mukadam said. He said eight more pilots have joined the agitation. The guild said that 420 pilots have joined the strike.
Air India lost Rs 4,325 crore in 2005-10 while leasing 16 airplanes, Mukadam said in an IPG release.