Messy strike

The agony of passengers of Air India (AI) never seems to end, be it snap strike by the employees, technical snags leading to sudden cancellation of flights, etc. The latest agitation by the pilots who were originally with Indian Airlines — prior to its merger with AI in 2007 — is turning out to be the worst the airline has faced in recent times. Friday being the third day of the strike saw just about 50 flights being operated out of 320 flights which the state-run carriers daily flies. More and more pilots are joining the strike, called by the Indian Commercial Pilots’ Association (ICPA), with executive pilots showing their solidarity with the striking cockpit crew.

Harried travellers will certainly have no sympathy for the agitating pilots who struck work just when the holiday season was set to begin. One will certainly sympathise with the passengers whose travel plans have been disrupted. However, this strike has many angles to it beginning with the merger of the IA and AI. It was a merger that never was and after four years, there is hardly any integrity in many areas. The strike by the erstwhile IA pilots shows that the cultures of the two airlines have not merged They want pay parity with their colleagues in AI. While AI pilots are paid on hourly basis, the former IA pilots — who mostly fly on domestic routes — have fixed salaries which they say is far lower than those of their AI colleagues. The flippant management has failed to address the issue all these years. It set up a committee headed by a former supreme court judge to deal with the issue only recently.

The new dimension to the strike is the refusal by the pilots to even heed to the court orders. They have defied the Delhi high court stay order on the strike by continuing their agitation prompting the court to launch the contempt proceedings against them. It is startling to learn that the pilots have the courage to defy the court orders which is certainly not the right approach to adopt. At the same time, it is incumbent upon the management of the airline — which uses taxpayers’ money — to hold talks with the pilots right away and not insist on them to first end the strike.

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