Air India sets 5 p.m deadline for striking pilots


New Delhi : National carrier Air India set a Friday 5 p.m. deadline for its striking pilots to return to work or provide a valid reason for leave without which they would face sacking.

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“Either the pilots come back to work and get themselves rostered-in as per the High Courts judgment yesterday (Thursday) or give a valid reason for leave,” a senior Air India official told IANS.

According to the official, the pilots have time till 5 p.m. Friday to get back to the management with their replies.

“They have till 5 p.m.,” the official said adding: “If they are ill and not well we have also provided doctors to check them, that too free of cost, which is a norm in our company.”

Several pilots had called in sick Thursday and Friday.

Air India has had to cancel and re-schedule around 210 flights since Tuesday midnight, when the strike started.

Meanwhile, pilots of Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) said they were ready to return to work only if written assurances are given that their demands of pay parity, better working conditions and reinstatement of sacked pilots are met.

“We are ready to go back to work. No one wants to trouble the passengers, but we want written assurances from the government that our demands are met and our sacked pilots re-instated back immediately,” said A.S. Bhinder, central president, ICPA.

Members of the ICPA, who were on the rolls of the erstwhile Indian Airlines before it merged with Air India, struck work, demanding parity in pay with their counterparts in Air India and other issues related to work conditions.

They also want the airline to reinstate the six pilots sacked during the strike, as well as four others who were suspended.

Besides, they want the union to be recognised again and Arvind Jadhav ousted as chairman and managing director.

The airline’s toughening of stand came after the strike entered its third day.

The flag carrier were forced to operate a minuscule number of flights out of its 320 daily national flights operations.

Earlier, the Delhi High Court Wednesday had stayed the strike, but the pilots union disregarded the judgment and has been on strike ever since.

“Think properly about what is going on,” Justice Gita Mittal said, pulling up the pilots after the Air India moved a contempt petition against the union.

“What is your defence with regard to non-compliance of yesterday’s order to call off the strike,” he asked.

The government has so far decided to fully back the airline management.

Civil Aviation Minister Vayalar Ravi said Thursday that the 1,600 pilots of Air India get a total pay of about Rs.800 crore annually, an amount equal to the annual emoluments of the remaining 28,000 employees of the airline.