Talks fail to end Air India pilots strike

New Delhi: A fresh round of talks between agitating Air India pilots and the management convened by the Chief Labour Commissioner (CLC) failed on Thursday as the strike entered the second day leading to cancellation of around 60 flights including several international ones.

Air India management moved the Delhi High Court seeking contempt proceedings against the striking pilots for defying its order for resuming work.

But the court came down heavily on agitating pilots for defying its order to resume work.

The airline also terminated the services of executive pilot Capt V K Bhalla for expressing solidarity with the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA), taking the total number of sacked cockpit crew to seven.

CLC N K Prasad initiated the second round of talks today after the first exercise failed on Tuesday following which about 800 pilots, owing allegiance to the ICPA, struck work.

The management had then derecognised ICPA, sealed their offices in Delhi and Mumbai, sacked six pilots and suspended two others.

At the meeting, the management remained firm that it would not talk to a derecognised union, while the pilots demanded restoration of recognition of their union, de-sealing of the union offices and reinstatement of those sacked and suspended.

Representatives of the airline management refused to talk to the pilots, saying their union was not recognised and they had flouted court orders, officials said.

The pilots, on the other hand, insisted that the recognition of their union be restored and all the six sacked pilots be taken back, they said.

Flyers at several airports bore the brunt of the strike with some complaining that they were not informed about the status of their flights and some coming to know about the flight cancellations only after reaching airports.

Labour Minister Mallikarjun Kharge told reporters here that the conciliation proceedings were going on and "a solution can only be reached through conciliation."

Civil Aviation Minister Vayalar Ravi has briefed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the entire issue, he said, adding that a committee had been set up to go into the issue and the government would take a view after it submitted its report.

In Mumbai, Rishabh Kapur, the sacked ICPA General Secretary, demanded a CBI probe into the alleged mismanagement of the airline which, he said, had led to the huge losses suffered by the company after the merger.

He also demanded "ouster" of the management charging it with being responsible for taking measures that led to Air India becoming a loss-making company.

This is the second time a pilots` union has been derecognised by Air India. In 2003, the management had withdrawn recognition to the Indian Pilots Guild (IPG), after the erstwhile Air India pilots protested and refused to fly to southeast Asia during the SARS outbreak. It got back its recognition in February 2009.

Several unions, including those representing air traffic controllers, flight dispatchers, the IPG and Society for Welfare of Indian Pilots of Jet Airways, have supported the stir, Kapur said.

In Delhi, 33 domestic and five international flights to Kathmandu, Kabul and Dubai were cancelled as the airline management decided to operate only those flights for which cabin crew as well as adequate pilots were available.

Similarly, unavailability of cockpit crew forced the national carrier to cancel around 19 flights, including two international ones, out of Mumbai.

Terming management`s attitude towards them as authoritarian, the pilots alleged, "Now they are taking action against those pilots who are refusing to fly a snag-hit plane, forcing us to violate flight safety rules."

The ICPA General Secretary said prior to the merger, Air India and Indian Airlines had a loss Rs 455 crore and Rs 280 crore respectively, which rose to Rs 16,000 crore within three years and that too after hiring consultancy firm Deloitte at a cost of Rs 90 crore.

The ICPA leader also wrote a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh urging him to review the appointment of the "high headed and dishonest management" to restore the glory of the airline.

The agitating pilots, all from the erstwhile Indian Airlines, have demanded pay parity with their counterparts in Air India, saying their fixed salary component was much lower than the latter`s.

Sacked ICPA President Capt A S Bhinder said the management had instigated the pilots to go on a strike so they could derecognise the union by not taking any decision on their demands, despite agreeing with them in principle before the Chief Labour Commissioner.

He said the management had "adopted this tactic earlier too in the case of two major unions – Air Corporation Employees Union and the All India Aircraft Engineers Association."

The management had violated the memorandum of settlement signed in November 2009 on implementing the Sixth Pay Commission recommendations, the ICPA president alleged.

The union also demanded CBI probe into cancellation and withdrawal of profitable routes and bilateral rights "given away" to either private airlines or foreign carriers, probe of aircraft acquisition orders of 111 new planes between erstwhile Indian Airlines and Air India.