Patel gives ultimatum to striking Indian staffers


New Delhi : Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel Wednesday called the strike by the ground staff and cabin crew of Indian airlines illegal and warned the workers of "consequences" if they did not call it off by the evening.

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"If they do not reach any conclusion by evening, we have to take some strong stand. For the betterment of Indian airlines and their own future they must call off the agitation," Patel said.

"Looking at the financial condition of the airline, we have offered them a package of Rs.267 crores (Rs.2.67 billion) but we have to think otherwise if they continue with their protest," the minister told reporters. "The protest is illegal."

About 12,000 ground staff of the carrier, including security personnel and baggage handlers, had been on strike since Tuesday night, demanding pay hikes and payment of arrears. The cabin crew joined them Wednesday, leading to a complete breakdown in services.

Thousands of passengers were inconvenienced as the strike impacted over 50 flights and services at airports across the country.

Patel said neither the government nor the airlines would like to see passengers being inconvenienced for a long time.

"In today's competitive society, people have several choices and Indian airlines cannot afford to lose passengers. They should think that their agitation is causing loss to the management," he added.

The strike leaders said they would not be browbeaten.

"The minister and the management cannot threat us. Our stand is clear and we will continue our strike until our demands are accepted," J.K. Badola, general secretary of the Air Corporation Employees' Union (ACEU), told IANS.

He said the strike had affected about 75 percent of the airlines' operations.