New Delhi: The Air India pilots on strike for a week now have refused to return to work and the Delhi High Court has issued criminal contempt of court notices to the nine pilots who are office-bearers of the now de-recognised pilots' association, Indian Commercial Pilots' Association (ICPA).
The pilots have been given two weeks to respond to the notices and the next hearing in the contempt case has been posted for May 25.
With close to 700 pilots refusing to return to the cockpit, the airline has suffered losses in excess of Rs. 100 crore in the last one week. The national carrier has been able to operate only 10 per cent domestic flights and has been losing Rs 20 crore per day for the last three days. The airline, as a result of the strike, has curtailed 90 per cent of its domestic flights till May 6.
As neither side blinks, Air India has decided to withhold salaries of the pilots on strike for the month of April. "We are implementing 'no work, no pay' against all those who are not reporting for duty. Their April salary will not be processed if they do not join work", an Air India officer said.
The officer, who requested anonymity, said the company was making efforts to garner resources to pay salary to the rest of the employees. Bank loans were also being organised, he said.
In court today, the striking pilots refused to budge from their stand, and said they would call off the stir as soon as the management assured the Delhi High Court that their demands would be considered within a time-frame.
With no breakthrough in sight, the High Court slammed the pilots and the airline's management for the continuing state of affairs. It admonished the pilots' association, saying, "How much loss are you going cause to the nation? Who will foot the bill? ...There's a court order telling you not to go on strike. You've taken the law into your own hands. I don't understand what you'll achieve."
The court, then, also rebuked the management of the national carrier. "I somehow get the feeling even you don't want the strike to end. Why don't you agree to consider the reinstatement of the sacked pilots?" a division bench headed by Justice B D Ahmed told Lalit Bhasin, the counsel for the Air India management.
Last week, the Delhi High Court had asked the pilots to end their strike and when they did not heed the court, had initiated contempt of court proceedings. The court had told the pilots, "When a court passes an order, you have to obey it. We cannot allow people to undermine this institution. If we allow that, no one would care two hoots. There would be anarchy... an order has been violated and you have no answer. Why don't you call off the strike right now?"
A raise is what the 700 pilots of the ICPA had originally asked for. They then suggested a CBI inquiry into the alleged corruption among the airline's management would interest them. Air India last week de-recognised the ICPA.
The ICPA says that since 2007 when the government merged Air India with Indian Airlines, the pilots of the two entities have not been given equal pay. Those who came to the merger from Air India are paid more. Pilots with the former Indian Airlines are paid a large percentage of their salaries based on how many hours they actually fly.
Yesterday, the pilots told the High Court that if the management agreed to re-recognize the ICPA, and re-hire three men who were sacked, they would consider reporting to work. The management has said it will not accept any preconditions.
Civil Aviation Minister Vayalar Ravi has said the pilots on strike are on shaky ground. He says 1600 pilots are paid Rs. 800 crore every year.
Hundreds of flights were cancelled last week. Passengers complained the airline was not sharing information on delays and cancellations. Many said they ended up sleeping the night at airport terminals, waiting for their flights to finally take off. Routes linked to Delhi and Mumbai were hit especially hard.
(With PTI Inputs)