Nearly 13,000 ground staff of Indian (Airlines) went on a flash strike late on Tuesday demanding better pay. There were no signs of a quick settlement at the time of going to press. Both the airline’s union and Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel were talking tough.
If you are flying Indian on Wednesday, steel yourself for long delays and harassment. Check-in staff, ticketing staff, baggage handlers, loaders — all are on strike. Conveyor belts will likely not work, neither will aerobridges.
Indian officials were saying they would make alternate arrangements — pulling in contract labour and staff from elsewhere — but it probably won’t suffice. A top source in the civil aviation ministry said he was "uncertain" how things might develop.
"We called the strike at 9 pm after our meeting with the management failed. They did not keep their commitment (on revising salaries)," JK Badola, general secretary of the Air Corporation Employees Union said.
Minister Patel disagreed. "We had agreed to give them arrears from 2000 onwards. (But) they have gone on strike, and we will take a tough stand and withdraw whatever we had offered. The settlement offered was for Rs 267 crore, even though Indian can’t afford it," he told the Hindustan Times.
He added: "This strike is illegal. They are a service industry and should not cause damage to the carrier in a competitive scenario."
In private, Indian officials were saying they expected major disruptions on Wednesday. Officially, the Indian spokesperson said, "Flights will be delayed but there will not be any disruptions. We will push more officials into service at the airports." He added, however, "We advise passengers to travel light."
The strike began too late to affect many late evening flights at Delhi airport on Tuesday. But passengers coming in complained of problems getting their baggage. At Mumbai, conveyor belts were not working, and seven flights had been hit. Passengers of late night Indian flights to overseas destinations were expected to be badly hit.