Anyone who has ever tried to fly Air India and found themselves delayed by hours, or harangued by surly staff, knows that the state carrier has been on life support for ages – and has probably thought that it was time for the government to pull the plug. (Alas, less than a month ago the government threw it yet another lifeline by clearing a $5.7bn bailout package to help the carrier cope with its $8.3bn debt.)
But this week, it was Air India’s pilots who seemed to be in need of medical attention, as an epidemic of inexplicable illness swept through their ranks, knocking out first 100, then 200 and now, according to some reports, upwards of 400 international-route pilots.
So over the past few days, the government has done what any concerned employer would do if a huge chunk of its workforce had contracted a similar illness – it sent out doctors to, so far, the homes of 50 pilots. What it found wasn’t quite surprising – the pilots had contracted a not-so-mysterious case best described as “I can’t work because the company is allowing domestic-route pilots to train on brand-new Dreamliners, and only international pilots should be allowed to”.
Or, as beyondbrics reported, in medical terms: being-a-baby-itis.
That seems not to have been a good enough excuse for the company – which has been forced to cancel at least 20 international flights and stop taking new international bookings until next Tuesday – or the Delhi High Court, which declared the strike illegal. So far, 46 pilots have been sacked – but they plan to continue striking until the management invites them for talks, something the union says they haven’t yet done.
But Ajit Singh, aviation minister, said that won’t happen until the pilots return to work.
“We may face short term problems for some time. But we will do whatever is needed to have an international presence for AI in the long term. If pilots are not listening to court, will they listen to anyone else?” Singh told the Times of India.
Perhaps they’ll listen to the doctor. What’s that old saying? “A strike a day keeps the paycheck away”? Something like that.
Air India pilots strike: childish edition, beyondbrics