The strike by a section of Air India pilots has entered the 57th day, to attain the notorious distinction of becoming the second longest strike in the country’s aviation history. The Indian Pilots Guild (IPG), the union of Air India pilots, had also struck work in 1974 against cost cutting measures when fuel prices shot up alarmingly.
The 1974 strike lasted for well over 90 days. In 1993-94, a strike by Air India flight engineers lasted for 56 days. Before the 1993-94 strike, the distinction of the second longest strike was held by AI’s sister organisation Indian Airlines, whose pilots went on a five-week stir in 1991-92 demanding more wages.
The current strike started on May 8 when pilot members of IPG went on mass sick leave, protesting the move to provide Boeing-787 Dreamliner training to pilots from the erstwhile Indian Airlines. After putting forth an original list of 14 demands, the aviators are now asking for reinstatement of their 101 sacked colleagues.
The airline has maintained that pilots must first end their strike and the sacked pilots will be reinstated on a case-by-case basis. Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh said, “Sacked pilots will be taken back on a case-by-case basis. But for this to happen, they must end the illegal strike.”
The airline has suffered estimated revenue losses of more than Rs 610 crore. Grounded fleet of Boeing 777s, unused manpower and absence from key routes have hit the airlines’ chances of a financial turnaround. The strike has crippled Air India’s international operations, stranding thousands set to fly to East Asia and the Middle East.
The striking pilots have started an indefinite hunger strike since June 24. Nearly five of 11 fasting pilots have been hospitalised. Officials at Airlines House, Air India’s New Delhi-based headquarters, are confident of resolving the situation by hiring new pilots.
The current strike is the longest since Air India and Indian Airlines merged in 2007. There have been five major strikes since the merger. The longest was by ICPA that lasted 10 days (April 27 to May 6, 2011) to demand pay parity.
Though there is no exact figure on how much the airline has lost since 2007 due to strikes, a blame game is on between Air India and Indian Airlines cadres.
“Estimated revenue losses depend upon the nature of strike, as factors like ticket cancellations, loss of routes and unused contractual obligations have to be factored in,” said an Air India official. According to him, a stir by cabin crew may not be as potent as that of pilots.
Besides revenue and reputation loss, strikes also provide opportunities to other employee unions to add pressure to get their demands fulfilled, he added. “Each strike inspires other industrial actions. A stir by one union will prompt the members of other unions to force their leadership to get them a sweet deal as well,” he said.
90 The IPG went on strike against cost cutting measures in 1974
56 Air India flight engineers went on strike in 1993-94
35 Indian Airlines pilots went on strike in 1991-92 demanding more wages