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Air India Employees End Strike Called to Protest Gag Order

In India, employees of the national carrier, Air India called off a two-day strike that led to the cancellation of scores of flights and stranded thousands of passengers. The sudden protest was called just days after a deadly crash of one of Air India's planes killed 158 people.

Air India ground crews and engineers announced they will return to work after the Delhi High Court termed the protest illegal.

Air India Chairman Arvind Jadhav said it will take up to four days to restore normalcy to the operations of the national carrier, which were severely disrupted by the protest.

"We have to clear a backlog, and we also have to make sure that the routes are normalized, flights are restored, and schedules are backed up," Jadhav said.

The chairman said 17 employees have been fired and 15 engineers have been suspended. He said the airline would suffer a loss of nearly $2.5 million due to the disruption.

The beleaguered airline was forced to cancel more than 120 flights since the strike began Tuesday. Thousands of passengers were stranded in several cities.

It was a further blow for an airline coping with the aftermath of a deadly crash of one of its planes Saturday in the southern Indian city of Mangalore. Eight of 166 passengers and crew members survived when an Air India plane from Dubai overshot a runway and exploded in flames.

The strike was called by two of the airline's 14 unions after the airline issued a "gag" order asking employees not to speak on safety issues or staff problems to the media. The crash - the worst in India in more than a decade had prompted several critical stories in the domestic media about the ailing airline.

Hours before the strike ended, Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel deplored the protest saying the employees should have stood by the airline and tried to redeem its image instead of walking off their jobs. He warned the government will take a hard line against workers who had behaved in an "irresponsible" manner.

"How can any management or any company function without the cooperation of its employees," Patel said.

Many employees who did not join the strike said the action was badly timed and would hurt the image of the airline, which is coping with a financial crisis.

Air India suffered heavy losses in the past year. The government has promised to prop up the airline and is infusing millions of dollars to turn it around.