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PM inquires about Jet crisis; conciliation talks tomorrow

india Updated: Sep 10, 2009 21:59 IST

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As the impasse over the Jet Airways pilots stir continued for the third day on Thursday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh inquired about the crisis at the Cabinet meeting and hopes for a solution were pinned on Friday's conciliation talks convened by the Chief Labour Commissioner.

Over 230 flights including 37 on international routes were cancelled giving passengers an unending ordeal.

Civil Aviation minister Praful Patel gave a detailed update at the Cabinet meeting where Singh is understood to have inquired about the situation.

The question of possible intervention by the Government to end the crisis was also discussed, official sources said, but no view was taken at the meeting.

Jet Chief Naresh Goyal met Congress MP Sanjay Nirupam this evening soon after the latter came out in strong support of the pilots and demanded that the airline be nationalised.

Both the National Aviators Guild(NAG) spearheading the stir over the sacking of four pilots and the Management, however, stuck to their respective stands.

The Guild president Girish Kaushik said the pilots are ready to return to flying duties in "fifteen minutes" from the moment their four colleagues are reinstated. "Once our four sacked colleagues are taken back, everything will be alright," he said, adding the NAG will take part in the talks.

Saroj Dutta, Jet Executive Director, held a three-hour meeting with Chief Labour Commissioner S K Mukhopadhyay in New Delhi apprising him about the management's stand. The meeting remained inconclusive. The management appears to be unwilling to dilute its demand to disband the NAG which the pilots' body is not agreeable.

Kaushik hoped there will be some "understanding" at tomorrow's conciliation talks in New Delhi. The NAG did not have any meeting with the Chief Labour Commissioner.

Extending support to the management, ground staff of the airline in New Delhi issued an emotional appeal to the protesting pilots asking them to return to work.

Guild's Joint General Secretary and one of the sacked pilots Capt Sam Thomas told PTI, "The deadlock continues. There is nothing to say. No one has approached us for talks."

"We have cancelled 197 domestic and 37 international flights today," Jet Airways General Manager (Flight Operations), E Sainath said in Mumbai.

Pilots have indicated that they would continue their agitation against sacking of two of their colleagues after no headway was made in the discussions between the two sides till late last night with the protestors also insisting that their trade union rights cannot be curtailed.

The stalemate continued despite five hours of talks between members of the National Aviators Guild (NAG), which is spearheading the stir, and the management through an interlocutor in Delhi. The company does not recognise NAG and has termed the agitation as illegal.

In New Delhi, Surender Sharma, a representative of the ground staff, told reporters, "We want this strike to be withdrawn because it is affecting not only the airline but us also. The future of families depend on this as the company is losing revenue as well as passengers' trust."

Jagjeet Kaur, another ground staff, said, "We want this agitation to come to an end today itself. We have been working as a team and now after two days of the strike, the future of 13,000 non-pilot employees is at stake."

Meanwhile, Congress leader Sanjay Nirupam told reporters here that he had raised the problems faced by Jet employees, including the pilots, and urged the Prime Minister to take over Jet Airways "in order to prevent the possibility of a shut down" as "threatened" by airline Chairman Goyal.

Soon after Goyal met Nirupam and had a 30 minute meeting with him, but what transpired was not known, sources said.

Meanwhile, agitating pilots, requesting anonymity, told reporters that they were not demanding a pay hike, but only the reinstatement of their sacked colleagues and the right to form a trade union.

They blamed the Jet management of "willfully flouting" the directive of the Regional Labour Commissioner to submit in writing to it and the NAG on the reasons why the two pilots were sacked by September seven. "They have not done it till now," the pilots claimed.

They alleged that the management had "systematically diluted" all agreements, including that on career progression, they had with the Society for Welfare of Indian Pilots, a welfare body of the Jet pilots, thereby "forcing us to set up the union. Now they want us to disband it."

Several national and international trade unions, including the Aviation Industry Employees Guild, the Seafarers Association, today expressed solidarity with the agitating pilots.