Air India employees call off strike, many sacked
NEW DELHI: Delhi High court on Wednesday restrained Air India employees from continuing with the strike.
Earlier, the government on Wednesday gave a free hand to Air India to crack down on a section of its employees on strike calling their action irresponsible, as the state-owned airline cancelled another 76 flights across the country.
Thousands of passengers were left stranded on the second day of the strike by the cash-strapped airline's engineers and ground staff, who account for about 60 per cent of the entire staff strength.
Representatives of striking employees and top officials also held one round of talks here in a bid to end the standoff but the deadlock continued.
The unions are protesting against a 'gag order' on members for talking to the media after Saturday's air crash in Mangalore and 'delay' in payment of salaries. The management however clarified there is only one general circular and that there was no 'gag order".
In all 110 flights, mostly domestic, have been cancelled since the flash strike began on Tuesday at a time when it is peak summer rush. On May 16, Air India flew a record number of 50,308 passengers on its network.
Taking exception to the "illegal and irresponsible" action by Air India employees, civil aviation minister Praful Patel stepped in and backed the management and said the airline is free to take firm measures to restore normalcy in its operations.
"Air India management is free to take all appropriate action and I am sure they are going to adequately respond. The management needs to act adequately and firmly", Patel told reporters after a meeting with civil aviation secretary M Madhavan Nambiar and airline CMD Arvind Jadhav.
Issuing a stern warning to the striking employees, he said "such absolutely irresponsible behaviour like this needs strong action... Strong, appropriate and decisive action should be taken. ...No one can take law into their own hands".
Patel, who apprised Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the situation, later briefed the Union Cabinet.
Asked whether government is going to invoke the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) against the striking employees, he said the future course of action is left to the airline management.
"The government will go by the advice of the management", Patel said amid reports that finance minister Pranab Mukherjee had spoken to him on the need for some tough action against erring employees. Jadhav on Tuesday night said termination of services of employees was not ruled out.
The Air Corporation Employees Unions and All India Aircraft Engineers Association, which are leading the strike, together claim a membership of about 20,000 employees or about 60 per cent of the staff strength.
A desperate Air India also approached the vacation bench of the Mumbai high court for directions to the employees to call off the stir but declined to interfere in the absence of the other party. The court asked the airline to give notice to the employees' union and adjourned the hearing till May 28.
Chaotic scenes were witnessed at Air India counters at several airports as passengers voiced their anger at the disruption of flights.
Air India in a statement clarified that its office circular which prevents union leaders from publicly airing their views about the airline's affairs was not a 'gag order' and that a similar order had been upheld earlier by the Bombay High Court.