Grievances will be heard unconditionally, Govt to AI pilots

Issuing yet another appeal to the striking Air India pilots to return to work, Government Tuesday promised to hear their grievances unconditionally without any vindictive action.

Updated: May 15, 2012, 23:57 PM IST

New Delhi: Issuing yet another appeal to the striking Air India pilots to return to work, Government today promised to hear their grievances unconditionally without any vindictive action, as it noted that the stir had cost an "almost bankrupt" airline Rs 150 crore.

"Strike is not an answer to solve your grievances .... All the grievances will be heard unconditionally. You come to talks unconditionally ... Please go back to work," Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh said, appealing to the pilots while replying to a debate in the Lok Sabha on the civil aviation sector and Air India.

"Air India management will in no way be vindictive towards any employee .... A lot of young people have just joined (as pilots). But the first priority should be that passengers are not inconvenienced," he said.

His response came as members, cutting across party lines, wanted an immediate end to the pilots' agitation and expressed concern over the health of Air India, while questioning the decision of merging the two erstwhile state-run carriers -- Air India and Indian Airlines.

Singh told the House that Air India, which was already "almost bankrupt", had lost Rs 150 crore due to the strike which completed eight days. Its credibility was also affected.

Regretting that pilots had resorted to strike during peak season, he said the government had announced Rs 30,000 crore as bailout package over eight years.

"This is bailout is not without strings. They have to meet strict standards. If they meet these standards, then we will release public money. We can't keep pouring public money. This is the last chance for them to perform," the Minister said, seeking cooperation of all employees in this regard.

The Minister regretted that "Rs 30,000 crore (bailout) is being questioned. .... There is murmur among the banks whether they should give money (to Air India)."

He said Air India would have to be competitive and follow industry norms to deserve any more money.

"If Air India sinks, all jobs will sink too", he said, and asked pilots and other employees to perform to revive the airline. But he also said, "These (pilots) are our children. So we will not be harsh on them and without their cooperation and cooperation of other employees no airline can survive."

Referring to the demands of the Indian Pilots Guild (IPG) about career progression, payments of wage arrears and "right to fly First Class when not on duty", Singh said "these are not issues to go on strike".

Elaborating on the court cases, he said the Delhi High Court had declared the stir illegal and asked them to respect the court orders.

Observing that the Dharmadhikari Committee report was being actively considered by the government, Singh said within the next three months, its recommendations would be discussed with all unions and implemented only after that.

To questions on airport privatisation, the Minister justified the hike in airport charges by over 300 percent, saying the decision to increase them was delayed. The charges should have been hiked in the past five years but now we have to recover it within two years.

On the high cost of jet fuel which amounted to 40-50 percent of airlines' total costs, he said since there was high state sales tax up to 29 percent on it, its price was much higher than that in neighbouring countries. This was the reason the government allowed airlines to import jet fuel for their own use, he said.