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New Delhi: Pilots and technicians at Jet Airways (India) Ltd are planning protests against the non-payment of salary arrears and are demanding wage hikes even as India’s second largest airline by passengers flown tries to sew up a stake sale to Etihad Airways PJSC.

The National Aviators Guild (NAG), which represents almost all of Jet Airways’ 700 pilots, has called for meetings this week to discuss a new salary structure and payment of arrears.

The airline’s unlicensed technicians are working with black arm bands to protest poor pay and demand a wage hike.

The protests come at a time when Jet Airways is trying to raise money. The airline is in discussions with Etihad Airways to sell a 24% stake for around $300 million, Mint reported on 28 January.

NAG said in an internal email to members that the management had ignored the pilots’ requests for a long time. “As you are aware, we have been in discussion with the management with a lot of issues concerning pilots, including salary," NAG said in a 26 January email that Mint has seen. “Though we have signed the salary contract, the final date of payment has not been committed by the management."

The mail called for “emergency meetings" in Delhi and Mumbai on 1 and 6 February, respectively.

Jet Airways’ pilots had struck work for five days in 2009 seeking reinstatement of some suspended colleagues. Hundreds of flights were cancelled at that time.

“There has been some improvement in the human resource and pilot staff relations," said Girish Kaushik, chairman emeritus of NAG, who had led the 2009 agitation, “although a lot more spadework needs to be done".

The loss-making firm, which has lost domestic market share since the last strike, has been trying to cut costs as it competes with nimbler rivals such as IndiGo, SpiceJet and GoAir.

A Jet Airways spokeswoman said the airline “has always adopted a conciliatory open-door policy with all its staff including its technicians".

“In addition, a management team is in constant dialogue and discussions with the technicians, in explaining to them the commercial and other challenges given the present economic state of the global aviation industry at large and the airline in particular."

The emergency meetings seem to have been called by NAG after the demands were ignored by the management, a 21 December email to pilots indicates.

“We have been pursuing various issues with the management for a while now. Each time the management expresses its willingness to resolve these issues; but their actions belie their words," NAG said in the email. “They continue to proceed with whatever they want and ignore the problems awaiting resolution."

These include “no word on when the new salary structure is to be implemented or the arrears are to be paid" and “unilaterally stopping the trainers bypass allowance even while talks were going on to resolve the issue", the email said.

A NAG member said the management has been cancelling meetings with them on “flimsy grounds" related to payment of improved arrears in 2011.

He said the management was trying to bring back some suspended pilot examiners into the airline, further deepening the rift between the union and the management. He declined to be named.

Mohan Ranganathan, a member of the Civil Aviation Safety Advisory Council (CASAC), said he brought the issue of Jet’s examiners, which was causing discontent in NAG ranks, to the notice of the aviation regulator last year and recently in a 6 January letter to aviation secretary K.N. Srivastava. A copy of the letter was seen by Mint.

“We have seen pilots with fake licences flying around in airlines. Now our aircraft will be manned by pilots with fake licences, training captains with fraudulent procedures and invalid licences checking out other pilots who have not complied with regulatory requirements," Ranganathan wrote to Srivastava, who heads CASAC. “If you feel the skies are safe with this mindset, we from CASAC feel the country is in for some rude shocks."

Shares of Jet Airways shed 1.57% to 602.25 on a day BSE’s benchmark Sensex was little changed at 20,103.35 points.

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