It brought the domestic services of Air India to a complete halt and also disrupted some international services. The ACEU and AIAEA leadership were forced to withdraw the strike on the evening of May 26, after a Delhi High Court Order declared the strike illegal, in response to a case filed by the management and the government.
Meanwhile, on May 26, the Chairman-cum MD of Air India announced the termination of jobs of 17 union leaders of Air Corporation Employees Union (ACEU) and the All India Aircraft Engineers Association (AIAEA). He also announced the suspension of 15 engineers and threatened action against scores of other workers. The management has announced “derecognition” of the ACEU, the main union of Air India, and the AIAEA. By the evening of May 27, services of 58 union leaders and workers had been terminated, and 24 workers had been suspended. According to the Union leaders, their offices have been sealed all over the country, and union records have been taken away by the management.
The AI management and the government have declared that they will crush the workers organization at any cost. "Whatever action has to be taken, we have to go the whole hog. We do not want to compromise at any cost. We have to come (down) with a heavy hand," the Air India Chief told reporters immediately after the strike was called off. "We are grateful to the Government of India for backing us", he said. The Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel, with full backing of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Cabinet declared “AI management is free to take appropriate action and I am sure they are going to adequately respond. The management needs to act adequately and firmly”.
These attacks of the management have been severely condemned by the ACEU and the AIAEA. These anti democratic measures have clearly shown that the Air India Chairman –cum MD and the Civil Aviation Minister are unwilling to and incapable of addressing the grave problems of the workers and the company, they have declared. They have accused the management of provoking the workers and preparing for a lock out. The Unions have issued a strike notice for June 12.
ACEU and AIAEA are part of the Civil Aviation Joint Action Front (CAJAF), a joint platform of 11 recognised trade unions in National Aviation Company of India Limited (NACIL). The ACEU had earlier issued a notice for a strike from May 31, 2010. The Delhi High Court had asked for this proposed strike to be called off and initiated conciliation proceedings between the management and the unions.
National Aviation Company of India Ltd (NACIL) was formed through the merger of Air India and Indian a few years back. The brand is popularly called Air India. The merger was followed by large scale retrenchment of workers as well as increase in the degree of exploitation of the workers in the name of being competitive with respect to private airlines and various international airlines of other countries. The unions have consistently opposed this.
One of the main factors behind the recent strike was the refusal of the management to discuss with the unions their demand for wage revision and better working conditions, for the ground staff, the engineers and the cabin crew. Further, the management had announced delay in payment of the wages for the month of May. The Unions are also reported to be very agitated at the growing privatization and liberalization of air space in India, which is leading to the handing over of many profit making sectors to private Indian as well as foreign airlines, thus reducing the profitability of Air India. But the management and government have refused to address these issues.
Immediately after the crash of the Air India Express plane in Mangalore, the unions had spoken to the media about the possible causes of the crash and revealed problems related to maintenance of airport systems, runways, planes, as well as the conditions under which pilots today are forced to fly by the NACIL – Air India Management in the name of profitability. The NACIL management issued an order declaring that the Unions had no right to talk about the “internal problems” of the Company. "Employees concerned are advised to forthwith refrain from going public with their statements that have potential to harm the company’s image and revenue prospects, failing which action as deemed appropriate will be taken," the circular said. The management followed this up by issuing show cause notice against two union leaders, precipitating the flash strike.
However, the problems raised by AI employees are not merely some ‘internal problems’ of the airlines. They directly affect the safety of lakhs of passengers using these services.
Announcing to the media their plans to crush the AI employees strike, the management and government tried to make out how they are so concerned about the problems of the public. They tried to portray the striking workers as ‘thugs’ who ‘do not care for the passengers’, who are ‘holding the public to ransom’. They were quick to blame “pilot error” for the Mangalore crash, even before an investigation, to cover up the criminality of the management and the Civil Aviation Ministry in putting profits over safety. But when the workers exposed the real problems, which threaten the lives of the lakhs of passengers every day, they were attacked and slandered!
Lok Raj Sangathan fully supports the brave struggle of the employees of NACIL – Air India and condemns the anti democratic attitude of the management of NACIL and the Union Government towards the employees’ just concerns.