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Contempt notice to Jet pilots; efforts on to end strike

Last updated on: September 09, 2009 20:59 IST

Jet Airways and its agitating pilots were trying to find a way to end the stir that led to cancellation of over 200 flights as more than 400 cockpit crew failed to turn up for work for the second day on Wednesday, even as the Bombay High Court issued a contempt notice to the pilots' union of Jet Airways for continuing the strike despite an earlier order restraining them.

Contempt notice

The contempt notice was issued by Justice Dhananjay Chandrachud who sought a reply by September 14 on a petition by the airline.

However, for harried passengers, uncertainty continued as there was no sign of normalcy being restored.

A division bench of Chief Justice Swatanter Kumar and Justice A M Khanwilkar had yesterday restrained the pilots' union from continuing the strike.

Jet had moved the court after the pilots proceeded on sick leave en mass on September 7 to protest sacking of two of their colleagues.

Jet's lawyer had argued that going on sick leave in such a way was tantamount to strike.

Jet's contention is that pilots cannot go on strike when conciliation proceedings are underway under the provisions of Industrial Disputes Act.

Jet pilots say it is Constitutional right

Earlier, sacked Jet Airways pilots said that the Constitution of India empowered them with the right to strike if the management was indulging in unfair practices.

Sam Thomas, one of the sacked pilots said that there was no question of disbanding the union that they formed and that the airlines management has maligned the image of the pilots.

Thomas said the pilots union is ready to talk with the management to resolve their issues, which he said, had been forwarded more than 40 days ago. He also said that several unions across various sectors have offered their support to the strike.

He claimed that the Jet Airways management has reneged on several agreements before and added that the sacking of pilots was unjustified.

It was also claimed that his senior management has misled the chairman of Jet Airways, Naresh Goyal.

Thomas's views came as the COO of Jet Airways, Captain Hamid Ali, said the Ministry of Civil Aviation was being kept posted about the developing situation, which was worrisome.

Labour Minister Mallikarjun Kharge said Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) could be invoked against striking Jet Airways pilots if the Civil Aviation ministry recommends so but hoped that matter would be resolved before that.

Many flights cancelled for Thursday too

For Thursday too, Jet Airways has cancelled many flights due to the continued pilot agitation.

The airline said that on disrupted flights, guests will get full refund or they can reissue/rebook flights without any penalty

Pilots ready to talk, but. . .

The protesting pilots expressed their readiness to talk to the management but insisted on reinstatement of four of their sacked colleagues while refusing to disband their newly created National Aviators Guild (NAG), the union spearheading the stir.

Jet chief talks tough

On its part, the airlines said it was willing to talk but Jet chairman Naresh Goyal made it clear that he will not allow the pilots hold the operations of the carrier to ransom and action will be taken if they did not see reason.

Amid hectic efforts to end the stand-off, including through back channels, Goyal had an hour-long meeting with Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel in Delhi. NAG leaders met interlocutors to find a solution, informed sources said.

In Mumbai, Jet chief commercial officer Sudheer Raghavan told reporters, "Doors are open. We will be sitting together."

Asked if it was true that the two pilots sacked last month were not given any valid reason for the management's action, he said Jet had "not gone out of the legal framework."

The sacking of the two pilots for allegedly trying to form an union sparked off an agitation that paralysed the airline's domestic and international flights since Tuesday.

Raghavan said the airline's domestic bookings had plummeted to 14,000 per day from 23,000 on normal days, in the wake of its pilots going on a mass sick leave.

However, the impact on the international bookings was less as the company retained 9,500 bookings against 10,500 it has on normal days.

"We are able to carry 50 per cent of our passengers on Jet Airways and JetLite flights, while the remaining are being transferred to other airlines," Raghavan said.

Readiness for talks was also voiced by NAG leader and sacked pilot Captain Sam Thomas. But he insisted that the union will not be disbanded.

Earlier, Goyal said that the airlines will be left with no option but to "sack more" if the agitators did not follow the company rules and procedures.

During the Goyal-Patel meeting, the minister is understood to have conveyed to the Jet chief to take steps urgently to end the agitation.

NAG President Gireesh Kaushik, who air-dashed to Delhi to hold parleys with interlocutors to find a way out, earlier held the company management responsible for the plight of the passengers.

Trade unions support Jet pilots

In a related development, eight all-India trade unions wrote a joint letter to Jet CEO Wolfgang Prock-Schauer demanding immediate reinstatement of the sacked pilots and recognition to the NAG.

The unions--AITUC, CITU, BMS, INTUC, HMS, UTUC, UTC and AICCTU--blamed the Jet management for 'violating' the legal rights of the pilots to form a union.

As many as 208 flights, including 38 international, were cancelled across the country as 432 out of 1056 pilots did not report for work on Wednesday, a company spokesperson said in Mumbai. The total number of pilots includes nearly 200 expats.

The NAG claims a membership of 680. Most of the morning flights of Jet were cancelled except those to Europe, the United Kingdom, North America and Singapore, the airlines said.

Meanwhile, Air India came to the rescue of the Indian  cricket team, which was booked on Jet, and flew it to Colombo for a tri-nation one day series there.

The pilots are protesting against the management's decision to sack two senior pilots. The airways had last month terminated their services after they along with others formed a trade union body in the company.

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