As the agitation by some Air India pilots entered the fourth day, the government on Wednesday talked tough, asking them to resume duty from tomorrow failing which the management of the airlines would take "necessary" action but the pilots refused to relent.
Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel insisted that the decision on Productivity-Linked Incentive (PLI) had not been implemented as yet and hence the pilots had "no reason to be aggrieved".
Hours after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh took stock of the situation arising out of the agitation, Patel said the decision on PLI cut would be implemented only after discussions with the pilots.
Describing the "strike" by the executive pilots as a "matter of concern", the minister asked them "see reason" and "cooperate".
"I hope the entire airline (AI) will come back to full operation from tomorrow, failing which the management will be free to take any decision that it feels is necessary," he said.
His warning came as 20 more executive pilots joined the stir taking the number of those reporting "sick" to 200. The protest led to cancellation of over 230 flights over the last four days, with 80 being cancelled only today.
Government sources said midnight tonight would be the "cut-off" mark and necessary action would be taken if the pilots do not report to work, responding to the "appeal".
Captain V K Bhalla, who is spearheading the pilots' agitation, was unfazed by the warning as he made it clear that the stir would not be given up. "We are not resuming work tomorrow," he told PTI.
Arguing that the order for PLI cut of up to 50 per cent was not implemented yet, Patel cited an order of September 27, a day after the pilots resorted to the stir, which talked about modifying the earlier order.
"It has been decided to modify the aforesaid order in respect to its applicability to Executive Pilots. The modifications will be discussed with a Committee of Executive Pilots before being finalised," said the order furnished the minister.
"The order is very clear -- there is a status quo," Patel said, adding "then why is there confrontation'"
He said the salary along with actual PLI has been paid to the Executive Pilots for July and only that for August remains to be paid.
AI sources said the salary and PLI would be disbursed to the pilots by October seven.
Apparently concerned over the agitation that has disrupted the operations of Air India and caused inconvenience to passengers, the Prime Minister took stock of the situation when Civil Aviation Secretary Madhavan Nambiar and Air India CMD Arvind Jadhav met him this morning.
Patel also met the PM in the evening to brief him on the developments.
Nambiar held a meeting with officials of all private airlines, asking them to accommodate the passengers booked on Air India flights which are being cancelled. He also asked them not to raise the fares in view of the problems in Air India.
Air India suspended booking of tickets till "further notice" and cancelled morning flights to reduce inconvenience caused to passengers due to last-minute cancellation in view of the agitation.
While assuring the pilots that their perks would not be cut without consultations with them, Patel asked them to be understanding in view of the financial problems being faced by "their own airlines".
He said the government would do everything possible to bring about a turnaround in the national carrier and the "employees should also support the effort and put their best foot forward" in this direction.
"We understand the concerns of the employees as no one wants to see take-home emoluments reduced. But at the same time, it is imperative to understand that Air India in its current form cannot absorb the high cost structure," Patel said.