The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Air-India grounds pilots’ guild

Mumbai/New Delhi, April 29: The rebellious Indian Pilots Guild has effectively ceased to exist for the management of Air-India.

The airlines today de-recognised the pilots’ body “with immediate effect’’ and suspended 18 more pilots for refusing to operate flights unless accompanying crew were certified as not having flown to SARS-affected regions.

Air-India had earlier suspended 27 pilots following the breakdown of talks with the guild.

The decision by Air-India to “de-recognise” the guild means that it cannot talk or bargain with the airline’s management as a group. It also leaves the door open for individual pilots to approach the management at a personal level. However, it seems unlikely that the guild members will fall for this bait.

A spokesman for the airline said: “We have sent a letter de-recognising the guild for its anti-organisation activities and for working against the airline. Following the de-recognition, there will be no more collective bargaining.’’

The airline followed the de-recognition and the latest round of suspensions with a caveat against the guild at the Mumbai and Delhi high courts. In the caveat, Air-India has appealed that the airline should be heard in the matter before entertaining the guild’s petition on “wrongful suspension of pilots”.

While 45 pilots have been suspended so far, 12 have been chargesheeted and 55 others slapped with showcause notices.

Air-India spokesman Jitendra Bhargava said: “The talks between the management and the guild before the regional labour commissioner, Shiv Kumar, have failed to bring about an amicable settlement. The talks could now shift to the chief labour commissioner in Delhi, S.K. Mukhopadhyay.’’

If the chief labour commissioner declares that the pilots’ action is illegal, they could be sacked.

The state-run airline has in the past faced such situations and responded by hiring back retired pilots. Air-India has asked three recently retired pilots to report for duty.

The guild has stuck to its decision not to fly to SARS-affected region without getting a certificate from the management vouching for the good health of crew who have flown to these destinations in the last 10 days. Bhargava said the airlines has had to resort to such harsh measures as the guild had violated an agreement that bound them to observe constitutional means and not to resort to steps that might disrupt the airline’s functioning.

“Apart from losing considerable revenue and causing unprecedented inconvenience to passengers, the strike has also demeaned the airline,’’ Bhargava said. The guild has been maintaining that their action could not be termed a “strike”.

“There has been no labour unrest since May 1996 and as the competition is very high now, we have been forced to resort to such a move,” the Air-India spokesman added. An Air-India pilots’ union had been derecognised in 1970.

Air-India continued to cancel flights today. All outgoing flights from Chennai have now been cancelled till May 4. More than 50 per cent of Air-India’s flights to Southeast Asia and Gulf countries have also been cancelled.

However, pilots of Indian Airlines have agreed to operate flights to Kuwait.

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