Agitating AI pilots promises HC to call off strike

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New Delhi: The agitating Air India pilots today told the Delhi High Court that they will call off their 58-day long strike with immediate effect. The pilots also told Justice Reva Khetrapal through their counsel Geeta Luthra that they will join their duties in 48 hours by giving joining reports, whereas those pilots whose services were terminated during the strike would submit reports expressing their willingness to join the duty.

The pilots decided to call off their strike after AI management assured the court that it would consider the grievances of the pilots "sympathetically". "Serious efforts have been made to settle dispute and the counsel for the parties have assured the court that their respective clients will be extending full cooperation in this regard. The senior counsel (Luthra) appearing for the pilots has said that her clients will immediately call of the strike and join their duties in 48 hours, by giving joining reports or the report expressing their willingness to join the duty."

"The AI management shall sympathetically consider the grievances of the pilots including the aspect of reinstatement of those pilots who were terminated as a consequence to their strike," Justice Khetrapal said while disposing of the pilots` plea for a direction to the management to take back the 101 sacked pilots, including the 10 office bearers of the Indian Pilots Guild. The court in its order directed the pilots as well as the management to appear before the conciliator, Chief Labour Commissioner N K Prasad, on July 5 at 4.30pm.

The pilots had moved on Monday the court saying they were ready to end their strike if their sacked colleagues are taken back and their union gets back the recognition. Justice Khetrapal, who also sought a report from the conciliating officer by July 9, was hearing an application of the agitating pilots` union, which had alleged that the Air India management created a "hostile environment" by sacking the striking pilots and also derecognising it.

On Monday, the court had asked the pilots as well as the management to amicably settle the dispute out of court. Appearing for the management, counsel Lalit Bhasin today told the court that it should not entertain the pilots` plea as they are in contempt. He submitted that the management is ready to talk to the pilots once they call off their strike.

"They are in complete disobedience of the court`s orders for the last two months and they need to call off the strike first before talking to the management regarding their demands. Let the counsel for the pilots make a statement before this court that they are ready to call off the strike today. They should not make any pre-condition to call off the strike. First they should obey the court`s order and then talk to the management," Bhasin said.

The pilots` counsel, submitted that the management has treated the pilots in two categories – those pilots whose services have been terminated and those pilots who are in service but are also part of the strike. She sought the court`s directions to the management to treat all 434 agitating pilots, including those who were sacked, as one entity and to reinstate the ones who were terminated.

Justice Khetrapal asked the management to hold an informal talk with the pilots to resolve the issue. "My concern is the issue should be resolved at the earliest. Nobody should suffer, neither the pilots nor the airlines. The pilots are not `gundas` or criminal element. you consider their grievance after talking to them," Justice Khetrapal said. Bhasin informed the court that there is a loss of Rs five crores everyday to the airlines and the public has been put to great inconvenience due to the strike.

To this submission during the course of hearing, the court asked the pilots to call off the strike. In their application, the pilots` association had said they are ready to resume their duties but the management has created a "hostile" situation forcing the pilots to go on hunger strike. The pilots had also said the health of several pilots has deteriorated due to hunger strike but the management has no concern for them.

Over 400 pilots owing allegiance to the Indian Pilots Guild have been on strike since May 7 and about 20 pilots on indefinite hunger strike in Mumbai and Delhi over demands relating to career progression and revocation of sack orders against 101 of their colleagues. The pilots had said they were ready to end their strike if their sacked colleagues are taken back and their union gets back the recognition. They had also said they went on strike after the management allegedly backtracked from their decided position on the career progression issue after long discussions.

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