The Supreme Court today refused to intervene in the strike by a section of Air India pilots even as Government offered to hold talks with them if they returned to work after their standoff entered the fourth day.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was also briefed about the fresh crisis in the cash-strapped state-owned carrier by Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh,as the stir led to cancellation of 12 international flights today putting hundreds of passengers to hardship in the holiday season.
Ajit Singh while appealing to the striking pilots to end their stir and seeking their cooperation ruled out imposing provisions of Essential Services Maintenance Act(ESMA) on them.
Asking the Air India management to “sort out” the problems with the striking pilots,the apex court refused to entertain its plea for initiating contempt proceedings against Indian Pilots Guild (IPG) for allegedly obstructing implementation of its order on training of pilots for Dreamliner aircraft.
A bench headed by Justice T S Thakur said they (pilots) have done nothing which amounts to contempt of court and suggested the airlines to speak with them to sort out the differences.
“They have done nothing for obstruction of justice or to bring disrepute to the court. Your problem is with them. You sit with them and sort out the differences. Don’t resort to contempt proceedings,” the bench said.
It further said that if the strike is illegal,then the airlines can take action against them.
Ajit Singh said all Unions have to rise above their “personal interests.”
“If they want to talk,they should come to work,and all issues can be discussed…The High Court has declared their strike illegal.
We are willing to discuss with any union but they should call off the strike especially when it is vacation time. If Air India does not stay afloat,all their jobs will be at stake,” Singh told reporters.
The IPG on its part ruled out returning to work unless the management takes back the pilots whose services have been terminated and their Union recognised.
“The ball is in the management’s court,” IPG spokesperson Capt Tauseef Mukadam said.
“All our long haul flights to US,Europe,Riyadh and Jeddah have been cancelled”,an Air India official said.
This has been done due to non-availability of pilots who are on mass sick leave since Tuesday,he said.
The cancelled flights were from Mumbai and Delhi to New York,New Jersey,Chicago,Toronto,Frankfurt,London,Paris.
The national carrier has already stopped bookings till May 15 on its flights to US,Europe and Riyadh.
The IPG,whose members have been reporting sick,are protesting the national carrier’s move to send pilots from both Air India and erstwhile Indian Airlines in equal numbers to get trained for flying the Boeing 787 Dreamliners,the first of which is likely to be inducted later this month.
Air India had yesterday moved the apex court seeking initiation of criminal contempt proceedings against the office bearers of the Guild by resorting to protest action,which,it said,disrupted international flight operations of the airline and amounted to contempt of the apex court orders.
Holding that nobody should maintain a stubborn stand,Ajit Singh said if the striking Air India pilots returned to work,the government was willing to discuss all issues with them.
“It is not an issue of being stubborn…we are going to take a long-term view,” he said.
He was asked whether it was the stubborn stand adopted by pilots and the government prolonging the stalemate.
On his meeting the Prime Minister,Singh said he shared information with him. “Whatever we are doing (to resolve the issue) is being done as per policies by talking to everyone involved,” he said.
He said as far as Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft is concerned,nothing can be done about it as the Supreme Court has said that all employees have a right to get trained on it.
“It (Dreamliner) was the original issue when they went on strike. As far as the issue of career progression is concerned,Dharmadhikari report deals with this and similar issues.
“A discussion is on in the ministry on how to implement it. We will talk to the affected people when we implement the report,” he said and questioned the need for Air India pilots to go for an “illegal strike.”