Air turbulence

For the third day in a row, hundreds of Jet Airways pilots have stayed away from work. This has resulted in scores of Jet flights being cancelled, putting thousands of passengers to inconvenience. The pilots say they are protesting the sacking last month of two of their colleagues for having been instrumental in forming the National Aviator’s Guild (NAG), a pilots’ association. Discussions are on between the Jet Airways management and the striking pilots but there are few signs of a breakthrough, which means that Jet passengers can expect to face problems for another few days at least. It is unfortunate that the pilots have opted for a strategy that holds innocent passengers to ransom. Their concern over the sacking of their colleagues is understandable. But their response is excessive. Besides, they could have called for talks with the management as a first step. By deciding to stay away from work soon after issuing an ultimatum, they have opted for all-out confrontation. Their decision to stay away from work — clearly an irresponsible one, especially at a time when the industry is reeling under recession — has earned them little sympathy from the public or the industry at large.
The strike couldn’t have come at a worse time for Jet. It is a severe dent to its image. Losses due to cancellation of flights are likely to run into crores of rupees, something Jet can ill afford at a time when it is battling recession. It does seem that the comprehensive cost restructuring strategy that it recently announced will have to be put on hold. With NAG able and willing to enforce a crippling strike, Jet’s management will find it hard to trim its workforce.

The government is said to be considering invoking the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA), which has been invoked hitherto when the public was inconvenienced by a stoppage of services provided by government-run establishments due to a strike. Its possible use now in relation to a strike by employees of a private airline company is a response to the dramatic changes the airline industry has undergone. Airline companies too need to respond to changes in the industry. With NAG’s formation, the unionisation of labour in private airlines has begun. Peremptory sacking of employees will not go unchallenged by employees. Airline managements will need to be less arbitrary in their hiring and firing methods.

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