New Delhi: The deadlock over the 49-day-old strike by over 400 Air India pilots persisted on Monday with the Government asserting that they have to return to work "unconditionally" and the pilots seeking Prime Minister's intervention to end the crisis.

"We want them to come back. All they have to do is to come back unconditionally to work. They never gave a notice (of a strike). High Court said it is illegal. I don't even know what the issues are. They don't know themselves. What can we do?" Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh told reporters here.

The pilots, who went on a 48-hour hunger strike at Jantar Mantar here, alleged that the minister was speaking in one voice and the airline management in another.

"There is a clear disconnect between the two," Tauseef Mukadam, joint secretary of the Indian Pilots Guild (IPG), which is spearheading the agitation, said.

They blamed the management for taking steps like grounding planes, which were leading the airline to lose market share.

"The failure of the management to resolve a minor labour issue is proof of the incompetence of the industrial relations department of Air India," the IPG said in a statement.

They also demanded that the sack orders against 101 of their colleagues be withdrawn before they end the strike.

"We request the Hon'ble Prime Minister and the government to intervene in order to end the present impasse at the earliest," it said.

The IPG, which has been de-recognised for leading the stir, claimed that 14 of the 20 Boeing 777 long-haul planes were on ground in Delhi, with the monthly payments for their parking, insurance and monthly payment instalments totaling about Rs 77 crore.

"Air India has lost close to Rs 154 crore on account of monthly payments for these grounded airplanes," it claimed and asked "which management official will be held accountable for the colossal wastage of taxpayers' money".

The union also claimed that due to the continued stalemate, the airline has been able to sell only 1,000 seats each day, compared with 4,000 as per the summer schedule.

"In other words, in the last 50 days, Air India (international) has lost 75 per cent market share", leading to a loss of revenue of over Rs 500 crore. \

The Minister said that any Air India pilot -- who is now on strike, or was sacked or faced action from the courts or referred to an Air Force doctor for calling in sick – was welcome to join back.

On a lighter note, Singh said, "They have the right to go on a hunger strike. It will be good for their health. It is 48 hours anyway."

The IPG said, "On the one hand, the Minister says come back to work, on the other hand, they are talking about more terminations."

Singh said his Ministry was reviewing all the routes to check where Air India was losing money. "We are considering even shutting them (flying on those routes) if we can't improve (the service)," Singh said.


Latest News from India News Desk