Taking a tougher stand, the government on Friday warned the striking Air India (AI) pilots that the airline may hire afresh if their agitation didn't end soon.
Talks between civil aviation minister Ajit Singh and the striking pilots didn't make any headway and there were no signs of an end to the agitation. The protest could, infact, intensify amid threats of a strike by management-level pilots as well.
Singh met the airline staff on Friday — the 19th day of the strike that has drained the national carrier of close to R300 crore, inconvenienced thousands of passengers and left the airline's reputation in tatters.
This is the first time when a minister or any ministry official has met the striking pilots since they went on a mass sick leave on May 7.
"We reiterated the stand of the government that it is an illegal strike. It has caused untold miseries to passengers. AI has lost much and therefore they should come back to work immediately," Singh said after the meeting, also attended by AI chief Rohit Nandan.
"As the minister was not willing to meet the elected office bearers, five members of the Indian Pilots Guild (IPG) met him to convey the grievances and issues of the pilots," said IPG, which has been de-recognised by the AI management, in a statement. "As the meeting did not lead to a mutually-acceptable solution, the office bearers have returned to Mumbai," it said.
Singh made it clear to pilots that the mounting losses due to the agitation may make it difficult for the airline to pay the wage arrears to all employees by June as promised.
During his meeting, Singh reassured the pilots that there would be no victimisation if they resumed duty immediately and their grievances would be considered.
IPG is insisting on reinstatement of 101 sacked pilots and resolution of issues relating to their career progression.