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Minister Patel Warns Of 'Strong' Action Against Striking A-I Staff

Taking exception to the "illegal and irresponsible" strike by a section of Air India staffers, the government on Wednesday gave a free hand to the airline to take firm measures to restore normalcy in its
PTI May 26, 2010 17:14 IST

Taking exception to the "illegal and irresponsible" strike by a section of Air India staffers, the government on Wednesday gave a free hand to the airline to take firm measures to restore normalcy in its operations, the disruption of which has caused harassment to travellers.  "Air India management is free to take all appropriate action and I am sure they are going to adequately respond.

The management needs to act adequately and firmly," Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel said here.  Issuing a stern warning to the striking employees, he said "Absolutely irresponsible behaviour like this needs strong action...Strong, appropriate and decisive action should be taken...No one can take law into their own hands."   Patel earlier apprised Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee on the situation arising out of the strike and briefed the Union Cabinet on the issue. 

The Air Corporation Employees Unions and All India Aircraft Engineers Association, which are leading the strike, together claim a membership of about 20,000 employees or about 60 per cent of the entire staff strength.  Talking to reporters after a meeting with Civil Aviation Secretary M Madhavan Nambiar and airline CMD Arvind Jadhav, Patel said the "illegal and absolutely irresponsible" action by a section of employees takes away all the good work done and the process of resurrecting the ailing national carrier to its lost glory.  Asked whether government is going to invoke the provisions of Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) against the striking employees, he said the future course of action is left to the airline management. "The government will go by the advise of the management."

Coming down heavily on the striking employees, he said they had caused inconvenience to thousands of travellers across the country besides hurting the image and finances of the national carrier.

He took exception to the timing of the strike, noting that it happened when the AI was faced with the situation arising out of Saturday's plane crash in Mangalore which claimed 158 lives.  In the aftermath of the tragic accident, "when the entire Air India family should have been one in solidarity and tried its best to help the families of the victims, it was unfortunate that a section of employees resorted to an illegal action without any notice. 

"How can any management or company function without the cooperation of the employees and the employees themselves being equally responsible," Patel said.  Narrating the sequence of events ahead of the strike, he said the absence of Air India engineers in Mangalore to give technical clearance to a flight, carrying families of the deceased and coffins, led the airline management to take help from engineers of the Kingfisher Airlines.

This humanitarian gesture was unfortunately taken by the (engineers') union secretary to unfortunate levels and criticised in public. The management naturally asked him to clarify why he made such damaging claims in public," Patel said.  "Purely on the basis of a showcause notice (to the union secretary), the engineers along with some sections of other unions resorted to a flash strike." 

He said the strike had caused disruption in flights, inconvenience to a large number of passengers, specially when the holiday season was on. "This has affected the image and the finances of the national carrier".  On the same issue, the Air India CMD said the airline's move to get help from Kingfisher engineers available in Mangalore was cleared by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation.

"We had only sought an explanation (from the union leader), but instead they went on a strike".  The minister observed that "wiser sense should prevail" among the employees and said the government was trying its best to support Air India during difficult times being faced by the civil aviation sector.  "We have already infused Rs 800 crore and are on the verge of giving another Rs 1,200 crore. Independent directors have been appointed and the airline has implemented several cost-cutting measures without resorting to any cut in salaries or PLI (productivity-linked incentives) even in difficult times," Patel said.PTI