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Wednesday, 07 March, 2012, 19 : 00 PM [IST]

Air India pilots threaten to strike from April 1, 2012

Protesting delayed payment of salaries and allowances, a section of Air India pilots today warned they would not undertake flying duties from April 1, 2012 if their dues were not cleared by then. The Indian Pilots Guild (IPG), which represents the pilots of pre-merger Air India, has shot off letters to Ajit Singh, Minister of Civil Aviation, Mallikarjun Kharge, Minister of Labour and others saying that a large number of its members had complained that "financial distress" could "adversely affect" their ability to safely discharge their duties and endanger lives, according to a PTI report.

Hence, its members "will be unable to operate flights on and after April 1, 2012, unless the management clears all the dues," Jeetendra Awhad, President, IPG said in the letter sent also to Rohit Nandan, Chairman and Managing Director, Air India, Nasim Zaidi, Civil Aviation Secretary, Govt of India and EK Bharat Bhushan, Director General, DGCA.

Subtly seeking to distance itself from the proposed agitation, Awhad said, "In the interim, we will do our utmost to convince our members to exercise calm and restraint. However, given the financial distress facing them, we are unable to provide any assurances to that effect." He also said that sought the "urgent intervention" of the two Ministers and others in resolving the issue at the earliest.

The dues comprise basic salaries from December 2011 till February 2012, Layover Allowance from December 2011 to March 2012 and Flying Allowance from November 2011 to February 2012, the IPG said, adding "this amounts to withholding approximately more than a quarter of the yearly emoluments", causing "tremendous hardship" to its members.

This is the second time this year that Air India pilots are showing signs of unrest over delays in salary payments. In January 2011, pilots owing allegiance to the Indian Commercial Pilot's Association of erstwhile Indian Airlines pilots had gone on a two-day 'no-pay-no-work' agitation, leading to severe flight disruptions. They returned to work after assurances that their dues would be cleared by March 2012. They had gone on strike last year too on the same issue.

There was no immediate official comment on the matter from the government or Air India.
Maintaining that several pilots came from "humble background and modest means", the IPG said these members had written to it that "non-payment of dues for an extended time period has caused them significant financial hardship and psychological stress."

They have also "written to us that they are undergoing severe psychological stress as financial institutions and banks are hounding them in order to repay their loans" and they and their families have "suffered humiliation" for loan defaults, the IPG said."You will certainly appreciate that in order to ensure the safety of passengers and the crew, a pilot is required to maintain the highest level of alertness and concentration.

"Clearly under the current situation, it is very likely that the safety of Air India's flight operations may be compromised, potentially endangering the lives of passengers," the IPG President said. "While we appreciate the financial distress facing the company, however, unlike Air India which can turn to the central government for funds, employees have no such option," he said.
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