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Rediff.com  » Business » Air India sacks six ICPA leaders, declares strike illegal

Air India sacks six ICPA leaders, declares strike illegal

Last updated on: April 27, 2011 19:15 IST

AI sacks six ICPA leaders, declares strike illegal

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N Ganesh in Mumbai and Sahim Salim in New Delhi

Cracking down on striking pilots demanding pay hike, Air India management on Wednesday sacked six leaders of the Indian Commercial Pilots' Association (ICPA) which was derecognised and its offices sealed.

The services of ICPA leaders, including its president Capt A S Bhinder and general secretary Capt Rishabh Kapoor, were terminated by the management, senior airline officials said. Two other agitating pilots were suspended.

At least 20 AI flights were cancelled since midnight including several on the Delhi-Mumbai sector and those to Kathmandu, Bangkok, Raipur, Aurangabad, Srinagar, Hyderabad, Nagpur and Leh.

Air India had to cancel at least 11 of its flights landing and taking off at Mumbai after pilots affiliated to the Indian Commercial Pilot's Association (ICPA) went on a strike from midnight on Tuesday.

They have gone on strike demanding pay parity between pilots of the erstwhile Indian Airlines with Air India.

Five flights departing from Mumbai and six that were to land have been cancelled according to airline officials.

Sources said that 25 per cent of the flights could have been affected due to the strike.

To make matters worse more flights could be cancelled as executive pilots who are currently not on strike are also likely to go on strike from Wednesday evening.

Talking to rediff.com, Kapoor, said that despite several attempts, there were absolutely no initiatives from Jhadav's side to resolve the issue.

"Mr Jhadav has failed miserably to resolve any issue. He does not even want to talk to the employees.

We now call upon the ministry of aviation, particularly, Mr Vayalar Ravi to step in and solve the issue," Kapoor said.

Captain Bhinder added that the strike was partly against Jhadav. "This strike is not just for wage parity, but also against Jhadav, who has failed in his duties."

With additional inputs from PTI

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Image: An Air India ticketing staff member sits at a closed counter.
Photographs: Vivek Prakash/Reuters
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Passengers had harrowing time with several flights getting delayed by over three hours.

While the management asked the striking pilots to give up their "irresponsible and unreasonable" stance and return to the negotiating table, the agitators said they were focusing on the "mismanagement" that had resulted in the financial losses to the airline and demanded a CBI probe.

Among the many stranded is Rajesh Sharma who is waiting for a flight to Ahmedabad. Sharma says, "I and my colleague caught an Air India flight from Hyderabad to travel to Udaipur in Rajashtan via Mumbai.

However when we landed in Mumbai this morning from Hyderabad we came to know that the flight has been cancelled, now we have been accommodated in a Mumbai to Ahmedabad flight.

We have decided that from Ahmedabad we would travel by road to Udaipur as we are not sure how long this will play out."

Even foreign travelers have been affected. At least two of its international flights have been cancelled due to the strike.

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Image: Passengers speak to ticketing staff through the only open counter.
Photographs: Vivek Prakash/Reuters
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To tide over the crisis, the national carrier has decided to rope in 150 management or executive pilots to operate the flights, the officials said.

No-frill carrier SpiceJet, in a statement, said it had directed its teams across all airports to accept and accommodate Air India passengers on request from the national carrier.

Terming the strike by its pilots as "unfortunate and ill-advised", Air India CMD Arvind Jadhav said, "now when such aggressive efforts are underway to resolve issues concerning every section of the employees, this abrupt action by the ICPA was certainly uncalled for.

"Why are some pilots being impatient, being irresponsible, being unreasonable, being adamant on tarnishing the image of the company and being totally unconcerned towards the convenience of our esteemed patrons and passengers," he said in an open letter to all employees.

The union had first threatened to go on a strike from March 9, but had deferred it till March 15 after talks with the carrier's management and the Chief Labour Commissioner.

On March 16, the high court had asked them to restrain from going on a strike as talks to address the issues were going on.

When asked to comment on Air India calling the strike illegal and in contempt of court, Kapoor said, "How can they call it illegal? We had given a legal strike notice well in advance as per the provisions of the Industry Act.

We had attended a meeting 15 days ago with the management and the Chief Labour Commissioner, who had set yet another deadline to the management. They failed to keep it and we are left with no option other than to strike," Kapoor added.

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Image: Stranded passengers
Photographs: Sahil Salvi
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Late last night, the ICPA gave the letter to the management intimating their decision to go ahead with the strike, after the tripartite conciliation talks before the Chief Labour Commissioner failed.

The ICPA, which has a strength of over 800 pilots of the erstwhile Indian Airlines, held the CMD "solely responsible for the financial mess" in the airline and "sabotaging" its future.

The ICPA general secretary, who was sacked on Wednesday, said that prior to the merger, Air India and Indian Airlines had a loss Rs 455 crore (Rs 4.55 billion) and Rs 280 crore (Rs 2.8 billion) respectively, which rose to Rs 16,000 crore (Rs 160 billion) within three years and that too after hiring consultancy firm Deloitte at a cost of Rs 90 crore (Rs 900 million).

Kapur said that "the management's intention seems very well scripted -- to buy new airplanes, upgrade the machinery (like SITA, SAT, IOCC) at a whopping Rs 800 crore (Rs 8 billion) and kill the morale of the employees so that they agitate, and then make way to sell the airline in distress."

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The ICPA leader also wrote a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh urging him to review the appointment of the "high headed and dishonest management" to restore the past glory of the airline.

"The Government of India has all the machinery and tools to investigate all the shortcomings of this management and hold them accountable. We, the ICPA, now demand a CBI inquiry or any appropriate body to inquire into the scams of the airlines," Kapur said in the letter.

The agitating pilots, all from the erstwhile Indian Airlines, have demanded pay parity with their counterparts in Air India, saying their fixed salary component was much lower than the latter's.

Air India now has a strength of over 1,200 pilots with ICPA having about 800 and the remaining 400 who mostly operate international flights owing allegiance to the Indian Pilots' Guild.

Sources in the management said that the national carrier may have to cancel 92 flights across the country if the issue is not resolved.

So far, neither the management nor the ICPA is backing off.

"The airlines is incurring heavy losses. We are just trying to save Air India. Mr Jhadav has refused to accept even one of the many suggestions we had submitted to him for a turnaround of Air India's losses.

Mr Jhadav has failed to do what even the Ministry of Labour has ordered, thus forcing us to go on strike. We will continue with the strike till our demands are met," Kapoor said.

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Photographs: Sahil Salvi
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In his letter to staffers, the airline CMD said, "The ICPA's midnight decision to go on strike is unfortunate and ill-advised. They had joined reconciliation process by attending the proceedings/hearings being conducted by the Central Labour Commissioner.

"They had given a commitment, including to the high court that they would not precipitate the situation by causing disruption. They were also expected to present their case before the Expert Committee led by Justice (retd) Dharmadhikari - which began functioning this week and have scheduled meetings/hearing even today."

Jadhav told the pilots "take up your issues with Justice Dharmadhikari Committee. Make your voices heard. You have the management's support for resolution of your issues. But let's be positive and reasonable".

Countering Jadhav, Bhinder said "the management has instigated us to go on a strike so that they can derecognise our union by not taking any decision on our demands, despite agreeing to them in principle before the Chief Labour Commissioner".

He said the management had "adopted this tactic earlier too in the case of two major unions -- Air Corporation Employees Union and the All India Aircraft Engineers Association".

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The management had violated the memorandum of settlement signed in November 2009 on implementing the Sixth Pay Commission recommendations, the ICPA president said.

The Association demanded a CBI probe into cancellation and withdrawal of profitable routes and bilateral rights "given away" to either private airlines or foreign carriers, investigation of aircraft acquisition orders of 111 new planes between erstwhile Indian Airlines and Air India.

The union also wanted an enquiry into the "under-utilisation" of aircraft and various facilities like engine overhaul shops at Delhi and Mumbai, training and simulators at Central Training Establishment in Hyderabad, "which are causing loss of revenue and extra cost to company".

The ICPA had given the strike notice on February 23 demanding better working conditions and fixed pay component.

A three-member Justice Dharmadhikari committee, formed to look into HR related issues of Air India, started functioning from April 25 and is expected to submit its recommendations in three months.

Alleging corruption and mismanagement on part of the management, the ICPA also demanded a CBI enquiry.

"There is a memo issued by the Central Vigilance Commission on the renovation work on Centaur Hotel (which comes under the National Aviation Company of India Limited (NACIL)) in which the functioning of Mr. Jhadav has been questioned.

There are several other stories of mismanagement and corruption in the management," Kapoor said.

Sources in the management said that the national carrier may have to cancel 92 flights across the country if the issue is not resolved.

So far, neither the management nor the ICPA is backing off.

"The airlines is incurring heavy losses. We are just trying to save Air India. Mr Jhadav has refused to accept even one of the many suggestions we had submitted to him for a turnaround of Air India's losses.

Mr Jhadav has failed to do what even the Ministry of Labour has ordered, thus forcing us to go on strike. We will continue with the strike till our demands are met," Kapoor said.


Image: AI chief Arvind Jadav.

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