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Air India pilots call off strike after 10 days

May 06, 2011 09:07 PM IST India India

New Delhi: Strike by Air India pilots was called off late on Friday night. The strike ends after a 10-day standoff between the government, Air India management and pilots.

Indian Commercial Pilots Association (IPCA) said all the striking pilots sacked and suspended are being reinstated.

All pilots will go back to work after 10 pm on Friday.

Over 800 pilots, belonging to the erstwhile Indian Airlines and owing allegiance to the Indian Commercial Pilots Association, as also executive pilots, will return to work on Sunday night, Capt AS Bhinder, the association president told reporters.

Emerging after five hours of tough negotiations with the Civil Aviation ministry officials, Bhinder along with ICPA general secretary Rishabh Kapur said all the pilots sacked and suspended during the stir would be reinstated.

ICPA, which was derecognised soon after the agitation started, will be recognised again, they said. "Government has given us assurances that they will look into all our demands including our complaints of irregularities against the airline management," Bhinder said.

One of the major sticking points was the demand of the pilots for compensation of 75 'fixed flying hours allowance', which their erstwhile Air India colleagues get.

The striking pilots have been demanding that all sackings, suspensions and transfers effected during the strike period be revoked, ICPA's recognition be restored, the contempt of court petition filed by Air India management be withdrawn, a CBI probe into the alleged corruption and mismanagement be ordered and all other issues be tackled in a time-bound manner.

Asked about their demand for removal of AI CMD Arvind Jadhav, Bhinder said, "our answer to this is that Government has agreed to look into all the irregularities".

Civil Aviation Minister Vayalar Ravi expressed happiness over the pilots ending their stir. "Their is no ill feeling and there will be no feeling of vengeance," he said.

Asked about the fate of the contempt notices in the Delhi High Court, he noted that the court has fixed the next date of hearing for May 25.

The minister said he was thankful to the pilots for "agreeing to our suggestions and withdrawing the strike". Asked about the demands of the striking pilots, he said,"interests of all sections of employees will be taken care of by the Dharmadhikari Committee".

"We have received representations from other sections of employees also and asked them to approach the Committee, he said.

The three-member committee will give its report in the next few months, Ravi said after the two sides reached an understanding.

The strike by over 800 pilots owing allegiance to the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA)had resulted in the grounding of up to 90 per cent of the airline operations. Around 60 of its planes were grounded due to the strike.

Air India had sacked seven pilots and suspended six and the management.

The Delhi High Court had slapped contempt notices on nine office bearers of the de-recognised ICPA for disobeying its order to call off the strike.

The airline has suffered an estimated operational loss of Rs 150 crore.

But the 10-day strike by Air India pilots came as a blessing to the airline - they will not need to pay out April salaries, stemming a large amount of red on the balance sheet.

In 1999, Air India introduced performance linked pay, hoping to improve productivity and efficiency.

The evaluation parameters were far below the average in other airlines. Despite this, Air India hiked incentives in 2005, and again in 2008.

A CAG audit shows airline profitability and load factor were not even considered while evaluating performance. The audit says incentives paid were between 62 per cent and 919 per cent of salary - government guidelines say it can't exceed 50 per cent.

Air India paid out Rs 473 crore in incentives, nearly Rs 300 crore of this going to officers. A struggling management recommended that halving performance linked incentives would save Air India Rs 600 crore - this was never implemented.

Air India spends the most on its odd employees the wage bill along over Rs3000 crore but the productivity is not commensurate. It is the lowest employee cost per revenue passenger kilometeres.

A 2009 competitive survey by international rating agency Skytrax termed Air India outdated, apathetic, grudging and unpleasant.

Today, of a yearly wage bill of 3000 crore, half is paid out as performance linked and flying allowances. As a former officer famously said while Air Indians get richer. Air India gets poorer by the day.

With additional inputs from PTI