Air India softens stand after talks with pilots fail


New Delhi: After its talks with the agitating pilots ended inconclusive Monday, the Air India management said it was open for further negotiations and that a decision on thorny issues like the pilots’ incentives would be taken shortly.

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“The management is open for discussions on the composition of the committee of executive pilots referred to in the office order dated Sept 27, 2009. Orders have been issued that PLI (productivity linked incentive) and flying allowance of July and August 2009 be disbursed immediately,” the airline said in a statement.

The schedule of payment of salary and PLI for the coming months, a contentious issue now between the executive pilots and the cash-strapped airline, will be finalised “shortly” in consultation with financial institutions, the statement said.

Meanwhile, the pilots threatened to intensify their strike after Monday’s talks failed to resolve the impasse.

“The management has refused to address our concerns. We will continue our agitation. We expect our pilots across the country to join us soon,” V.K. Bhalla, who represents the senior executive pilots, told reporters.

He said the management has refused to look into their demand on payment of three months’ arrears and agreement on wages besides a neutral party intervention.

Bhalla also accused Air India chairman and managing director Arvind Jadhav of creating confusion among pilots.

The executive pilots are likely to hold talks with the management later in the evening.

Jadhav flew in from Mumbai Monday afternoon to meet the pilots. Air India has its head office at Mumbai.

The strike entered the third day Monday, forcing cancellation of at least 14 flights, including two international flights, out of the national capital alone.

On Sunday, the management had met a section of pilots in Mumbai and agreed to their demands and assured them that a committee would reverse its decision concerning cut in their productivity linked incentives (PLI) and its modalities. The PLI constitutes the major chunk of their salary.

Despite that, the Delhi faction of executive pilots said they would continue the strike till the management also conceded their demand and paid them their last three months’ salary arrears and other agreements on wages.

About 100 executive pilots reported for work between Friday and Sunday midnight, while according to another Air India official, executive pilots based in Chennai, Mumbai and Kolkata resumed duty Monday.

The civil aviation ministry has called a meeting of all airlines Tuesday to discuss the situation arising out of the Air India pilots’ agitation as well as a similar protest by their counterparts in the Jet Airways earlier this month.

The Air India agitation began last week after the management’s decision to slash the PLI of employees by 25 to 50 percent as part of cost-cutting measures. The airline’s current debt is about Rs.16,500 crore and its losses stood at Rs.7,200 crore in fiscal 2008-09 that ended March 31.

The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Sunday condemned the national carrier’s decision to slash the wages and PLI of its pilots and demanded the government’s intervention in the Air India strike.