Services of 17 employees were terminated and another 15 engineers suspended as the Air India (AI) management clamped down on striking employees who called-off their two-day protest late on Wednesday.
On a day full of twists and turns, the government came out strongly in support of the AI management and the Delhi High Court termed the strike as “illegal” and directed various union members to resume duty.
Sources said those who had been sacked or suspended include top office bearers of AI’s All India Aircraft Engineers Association and the Air Corporation Employees Unions (ACEU). The two unions — who constitute 50 per cent of total staff strength — went on a flash strike to protest against a “gag order” and “show-cause notice” issued by the company.
The strike — that almost crippled the national carrier further denting its image — saw over 120 flights being cancelled and many more delayed and diverted, 30,000 passengers affected, 4,000 stranded (another 3,000 in Singapore), an estimated loss of Rs 12 crore and a whole lot of muck on AI’s face. 76 flights were cancelled on Wednesday including 18 international flights to destinations including Singapore, Muscat, Abu Dhabi and Bangkok.
The day saw railways running extra coaches and ferry flights being operated to accommodate affected passengers.
Arvind Jadhav, CMD, AI said it could take up to three to four days for operations to normalise. Jadhav, however, added that he wasn’t sure whether the announcement by these “misguided elements” to call off their protest would actually see them return to work immediately.
“This strike was illegal. We have to bring in accountability and need to fix responsibility. Whatever action has to be taken, we have to go the whole hog. We do not want to compromise at any cost. We have to come (down) with heavy hand,” Jadhav said.
“We want NACIL to become a professional, accountable and disciplined organisation. The management is trying to ensure discipline,” he said.
“How can they sack employees like this? We come under the protected workmen category,” said ACEU, general secretary JB Kadian, who was hopeful of the unions and the management resolving issue amicably. Kadian maintained that the chief labour commissioner, mediating between the two sides, had given in writing that no victimisation will take place when the conciliation process was on.
AI would operate 78 flights on Thursday to clear the backlog. Terming the strike illegal, Justice Rajiv Sakdher made it clear to the unions that they cannot put the public to inconvenience in this fashion and cause huge loss to the airline. The court also termed as “illegal” the proposed strike of the Air India employees from May 31. The next hearing would be on July 13.
AI had submitted before the court that the strike was violative of sections 22 and 24 of the Industrial Disputes Act and it has caused 50 per cent loss in its business since Tuesday.
Govt hardens stand
Earlier in the day, government gave a free hand to the AI management to crack down on the striking employees calling their action irresponsible. Calling their action “illegal and irresponsible”, Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel strongly backed the management and said the airline was free to take firm measures to restore normalcy in its operations.
"AI management is free to take all appropriate action and I am sure they are going to adequately respond. The management needs to act adequately and firmly,” Patel said.