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183 Jet flights cancelled; 13,000 passengers affected
NDTV Correspondent, Tuesday September 8, 2009, New Delhi The government could crack down on 363 pilots of Jet Airways who have refused to return to work, protesting against the sacking of two of their colleagues for setting up a new union.
Meanwhile, sources have said that Jet pilots will remain on mass sick leave on Wednesday as well. The pilots will take the strike ahead for next 24 hours, the sources added.
Putting up a brave front, the airlines sacked three more pilots on Tuesday evening.
Now, the airlines has been forced to cancel 31 flights for Wednesday.
In another development, the Bombay High Court has asked pilots' unions to restrain from going on any kind of strike. Though there was no one in court to represent the union when the management approached the court, the court has kept the hearing in two weeks.
Jet's counsel pleaded before the High Court that since the matter is before the labour commissioner, jet pilots cannot go on strike.
It says the strike is illegal.
Jet provides public service and the strike has led to cancellation of 115 flights. So, it orders that jet pilots can't strike until the next date of this hearing.
India's largest private sector on Tuesday cancelled 183 flights, including four international flights, in view of its pilots going on mass casual leave.
The government has asked the Jet Airways management to talk to the pilots. Civil Aviation Secretary Madhavan Nambiar said the government would like to see the crisis resolved through talks and will look at other options if the talks fail.
The pilots' protest has affected 13,000 passengers at airports across the country. At the moment all efforts are being made to divert passengers to other. The government has asked Jet Airways to be in touch with other airlines to work out a plan to accommodate affected passengers. Air India has offered to share the passenger load.
The Civil Aviation Ministry has also asked the airline to refund the flight fares.
The Jet management has asked its pilots to resume duty immediately to help normalise operations. The airline says the mass sick leave by pilots is equivalent to strike, which is shocking and illegal.
The government could invoke the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) against the pilots, which means they could be arrested or sacked.
Home Secretary GK Pillai has written to all state chief secretaries asking them to review the situation and decide on imposing ESMA. Concerned with the inconvenience caused due to cancelled flights, the government has sought state governments' inputs if ESMA could be invoked to restore Jet services, as harassment of passengers is seen as an act against public interest.
Earlier in the day, Civil Aviation Secretary Madhavan Nambiar and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) briefed the Home Secretary about the situation. Before that, Jet Airways chairman Naresh Goyal is understood to have discussed the crisis with Nambiar.
Goyal also confirmed that doctors were sent to the houses of pilots who did not join duty, reporting sickness. Also, the pilots have been asked to meet the DGCA, Naseem Zaidi.
The Civil Aviation Ministry has asked the airline to refund the passengers the flight fares.
The government also asked Jet Airways to be in touch with other airlines to work out a plan to accommodate affected passengers.
Meanwhile, of the 14 planes parked at Mumbai airport, Jet has moved two to Hyderabad and two to Pune. Few more have been moved to non-parking areas. Mumbai officials had asked the airline to vacate the parking bays by 3 pm, to prevent congestion.
According to management sources, the airline will file a report to the Regional Labour Commissioner later today, citing violation of Labour rules by the pilots.
Sources also said that the airline has initiated the process of conciliation and is talking to pilots to settle the issue.
In a Press statement Jet Airways said a section of the pilots had resorted to a simulated strike by reporting sick. "This organized activity is planned sabotage of operations that will damage the airlines' operations and inconvenience the travelling public," the statement said.
The Jet pilots' association says the management is responsible for the current mess. They want a written promise that the sacked pilots will be taken back.
The airline has put up affected commuters in hotels and has offered to refund the fares. A large number of passengers were also accommodated in flights of Air India and other carriers.
Last month, the airline had sacked two of its seniormost pilots Captain Sam Thomas and Captain Balaraman saying their services were not required after they, along with other pilots, formed a trade union body, National Aviators Guild (NAG).
The issue was referred to the Regional Labour Commissioner for conciliation
The commissioner conducted the first conciliation proceedings between the management and union on August 31 and advised both the parties to adhere to the Industrial Dispute Act of 1947
It said that since the matter was under conciliation, Jet pilots were legally bound to not to go on a strike.
Though the pilots withdrew the strike call from midnight of September 7, as part of their strategy, they decided to go on mass casual leave from late Monday night.
The NAG claims representation of 645 pilots of the total over 1000 pilots in Jet Airways
 
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