New Delhi: Barely two days after an Air India Express plane crashed at Mangalore airport killing 158 people, at least 13,000 employees of national carrier Air India went on a flash strike at noon on Tuesday to protest a gag order issued by the management after the accident.
Executives at Air India indicated that flights, mainly to smaller destinations, would be disrupted on Wednesday as well, even as the airline has mustered all available resources to minimize the impact on operations.
“If the strike continues, passengers will be stranded as all other domestic airlines are flying with over 90% seat occupancy,” an executive at a private carrier said on condition of anonymity. “Other airlines may not be in a position to accommodate these passengers.”
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The striking employees belong to the Air Corporation Employees Union (Aceu) and the All India Air Engineers Association.
Aceu president Dinakar Shetty said the airline management was wrong to issue a gag order.
This “would mean that the management has to hide something from the public. We want the management to withdraw this gag order”, he said. “Significantly, we were not protesting for the last several months for not keeping promises on wage revision.”
After-effects: Air India staff protesting against a gag order issued by the airline after the Mangalore crash. Vipin Kumar/HT
Shetty said Arvind Jadhav, chairman and managing director of the national carrier, has called a meeting on Wednesday afternoon, adding, “The strike will continue till then.”
Air India cancelled 42 flights starting 2.30pm on Tuesday. While flights from major cities have not been affected, there have been disruptions at some of the non-metro airports, the airline said in a statement.
“In this hour of crisis, the management earnestly appeals to all sections of employees to join hands to strengthen the airline and maintain high performance to show that Air India can cope with any emergency,” the statement said.
George Abraham, general secretary of the Aviation Industry Employees Guild, an Air India staff union representing 8,000 employees, said it was not an opportune time for a strike as Air India is in the middle of a crisis.
“We should show some restraint at this point of time,” he said. “This strike decision will turn public sentiment against employees.”
Abraham noted that Air India had issued a similar gag order last year and the Bombay high court had asked union leaders to refrain from remarks to the media that would hurt the carrier.