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Air India cracks whip on unions, tries to normalise flights (Roundup)

Mumbai/New Delhi, May 27 (IANS) Amid moves to restore normal operations after a two-day wildcat strike by 15,000 employees, national carrier Air India Thursday cracked down on two unions, sealing their offices, and sacking and suspending over 40 workers.

The airline management immediately terminated the services of 17 officials and suspended 15 others who were the voices of the two main agitating unions — the All India Aircraft Engineers’ Association (AIAEA) and the Air Corporation Employees’ Union (ACEU).

‘We are also taking due steps to de-recognise these two unions,’ said a senior official speaking for the management. All moves initiated since Wednesday have the full backing of the aviation ministry, he added.

The union leaders, nevertheless, were adamant and threatened to serve another notice for a strike. The matter took a political turn with support for them coming from the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M).

‘The Air India management is solely responsible for the inconvenience of the passengers. The role of Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel is also responsible for the present state of affairs in Air India,’ the party said in a statement.

Union officials were unwilling to speak to the media after the Delhi High Court order, but said their focus was on the hearing scheduled on the same matter at the Bombay High Court Friday, as the bench had declined to order the strike illegal.

The union leaders have also decided to take up the matter with Chief Labour Commissioner S.K. Mukhopadhyay, who was mediating on behalf of the two unions and had assured them that there would be no victimisation by the carrier’s management.

The airline has already said it will take another day or so to resume normal operations as the entire roster was in disarray. They said 78 scheduled operations were pressed into service Thursday and more would be added over the next few days.

‘There were a few cancellations from New Delhi and Kolkata this morning, but as far as Mumbai was concerned, we have been able to operate all our flights as usual,’ an Air India spokesperson told IANS in Mumbai.

‘Two early morning flights to Ahmedabad could not be operated. But they had minimal load which was transferred to other flights operating from the international terminal.’

The strike, the airline said, had led to over 100 flight cancellations and a loss of Rs.12 crore (Rs.120 million/$2.5 million) for the carrier, and 13,000 passengers were inconvenienced.

It was evident that the government supported the action by the airline management.

‘Whatever action has to be taken, we have to go the whole hog,’ said Air India chairman Arvind Jadhav after the Delhi High Court order Wednesday asked the employees to call off their strike till July 13. He said Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel has fully backed the managment stand.

‘We will ensure that such an event is not repeated in future,’ Civil Aviation Secretary M. Madhavan Nambiar added, in a clear signal to the airline to take whatever steps may be required to ensure orderly behaviour by unions.

The sudden strike further dented the image of the flag carrier that had come under a cloud due to reports of poor safety standards in the wake of the Mangalore air crash and deterioration in services due to accumulated losses that topped $2.5 billion.

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