The strike by the pilots of Air India, which has entered its 26th day, may finally be called off, according to sources.
The agitating pilots have been holding back-channel talks with Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh, sources have told NDTV. Even though the ministry still wants the pilots to return to work unconditionally, he has, according to sources, assured them "verbally" of reinstating the sacked pilots.
Sources say that the pilots have discussed their options and a section of them has, in fact, agreed to the ministry's demand.
The developments, interestingly, come on day when the Civil Aviation Minister is all set announce the streamlining of promotion policy of Air India. Issues of promotion and pay parity have been, among several others, been key issues in the strike spearheaded by the Indian Pilots Guild, a body comprising over 200 pilots from the pre-merger Air India.
The government will also make public a report today prepared by a panel constituted to look into the problems arising out of the merger of the airline with the erstwhile Indian Airlines. The integration, which happened in 2007, has been far from smooth, resulting in frequent strikes and labour issues.
The Dharmadhikari Committee, which submitted its report on January 31, has, among other things, made recommendations on crucial issues like principles of integration across various cadres, seniority and principles of pay rationalisation of the two erstwhile state-run airlines, issues that have been at the centre of the strike called by the Air India pilots. The minister will announce a roadmap for implementing, at the earliest, the recommended measures, which have since been vetted by a panel of three officials.
The move could, to a certain extent, help address some crucial issues raised by the agitating pilots who have expressed concern about their seniority and promotions linked with training on new generation aircraft like the Boeing 787 Dreamliners and Boeing 777s.
The four-member committee, which was set up last year, has also suggested several steps on various HR and industrial relations issues to integrate the employees of the two carriers before their merger. It has also looked into matters of pensionary schemes, gratuity and other terminal benefits having financial implications for the pilots. The report has also recommended harmonising the pay structure and incentives to Air India staffers in line with those of other public sector undertakings.
The move by the government comes in the wake of continued slide in the performance of the national carrier. The agitation by the pilots has also made matters difficult for the government which recently cleared a Rs. 30,000-crore bailout for the national carrier - one that's becoming increasingly hard to defend.