The government on Saturday asked Air India pilots to end their five-day stir before coming for talks as Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh reached out to the Opposition to find ways to end the impasse which has led to the cancellation of at least 16 flights.
Leaders of the Indian Pilots Guild, spearheading the agitation on issues of career progression, said they were willing to hold talks with the government without any pre-condition to resolve the matter.
Singh asked the pilots to consider the plight of passengers and said "we are ready for talks but they must call off their strike".
"The first priority must be to make sure that the passengers feel they are being listened to. So let the pilots decide that. Ask for forgiveness from passengers. Start the flights ... we can talk on anything after that," Singh said.
He also reminded the pilots that Air India was almost bankrupt and public money was being pumped to revive the national carrier.
The minister is meeting two of his Opposition predecessors, Shahnawaz Hussain and Rajiv Pratap Rudy, to find a way to resolve the crisis in the ailing national carrier.
At a press conference in Mumbai, IPG President Jeetendra Awhad and senior leader Tauseef Muqaddam said "the ball is in the government's court" and blamed the airline management for not giving a clear picture to the government.
A group of senior pilots also wrote a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and AI CMD Rohit Nandan supporting the pilots' demands and demanding that these "genuine" issues should be looked into.
Taking a tough stand, the Air India management had on Friday sacked 25 pilots. With this, the total number of pilots whose services have been terminated has gone upto 71.
Air India management has also written to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) asking it to cancel the licenses of 11 IPG office-bearers whose services have been terminated.
The statements from the minister and the IPG came a day after the Supreme Court asked the airline to resolve the issues by calling for negotiations. The pilots' union had on Friday sought time for talks with the civil aviation minister.
Asked when they would call off their stir, IPG President Awhad said the services of "close to 75 pilots have been terminated. When our offices are sealed, we cannot enter Air India premises. How can we join work?"
He said the government should "allow us to place our issues without the interference of the AI management".
"We are ready to go back a hundred steps if industrial relations in the company are maintained by the management," Awhad and Muqaddam said in Mumbai.
Awhad said, "we are ready to sit down and talk, and each and every problem has a solution but every solution needs to be discussed.
"And then only you can find the rightful solution. After discussions and negotiations across the table, we can find a way out," he said.
About 260 pilots, owing allegiance to IPG, have reported sick and refused to join duty since the past five days.
"Air India is escalating the matter rather than resolving the issue," Mukaddam said.