'Pilots' future linked to airline's fortunes'
More than a month after it began, the Air India stalemate continues. To know the exact state of affairs and the government's stance, MiD DAY spoke to Union Minister for Civil Aviation Ajit Singh, who has maintained a tough stance against agitating pilots.
How long will this strike continue? Why are the pilots refusing to come back?
We have tried our best to end the ongoing stir. I have personally requested the pilots to resume work with an assurance that there will be no victimisation, but they did not come back. They are not obeying orders of Delhi High Court that has deemed the strike illegal. They are not ready to accept the Justice Dharmadhikari report, which is a part of the turnaround plan. They are putting conditions like government recognition for their union. We have said that there is a process through which this can be achieved, but they are not agreeing to that either.
Agitating pilots claim the management is not ready to listen to their demands. They have also been saying that AI officials are opposing their pleas and are misguiding you. Is there any truth to this?
No. No one has ever misguided me over the issue. The pilots discussed their problems with the Air India CMD, then later with the aviation secretary and finally with me. During some of the meetings they even agreed to come back, but never did. I am unable to understand what their demand is? They work for 35 hours a week but are paid more than pilots who are working for 80 hours. What more do they want?
Don’t you think if this stalemate continues the airline may have to eventually shut down?
There are people who want the airline to shut down but we (government) want to run it. Government sanctioned Rs 30,000 crore to revive the company but these young kids who are on strike do not understand that their future is linked to the future of the airline. Government will not use taxpayers’ money like this again and again. In the past few months the airline was recovering from its financial turmoil, but the pilots decided to go on strike. Every time they go on a strike when it is peak season.
Is the door now shut for agitating pilots or can they still join work?
It’s more than a month now and they are still not ready to come back. What is the option left? Once the job notice is announced we will have to hire pilots. If they want to come back then they will have to come through the fresh recruitment process.