Air India pilots vote to strike against 'workmen' notification

Air India pilots have voted to protest against new rules that took away their right to agitate and excluded them from being part of unions.

The results of a secret ballot among the 800-member strong union showed that the pilots overwhelmingly voted to strike. The results revealed yesterday showed nearly 80 per cent of those who voted said they supported a strike.

The poll was conducted to gauge the pilots' sentiments over the labour ministry's recent notification under which senior pilots or commanders would no longer be considered as 'workmen', with right to strike.

Last evening, the Indian Commercial Pilots' Association (ICPA) issued a letter confirming the ballot results but did not spell out its future course of action.

"We would like to inform you that we are overwhelmed by the enthusiam and support shown by our members by participating in the secret ballot and all the four regions have voted in favour of strike," the letter read, Livemint reported.

While pilots have been asked to wait for 'further instructions', according to sources, the ICPA might serve a formal strike notice in the next two days. In the normal course a period of 14 days was available for negotiations following a strike notice.

It was not yet clear whether ICPA, which consisted of 660 members, would serve a strike notice immediately.

The members are opposed to the 20 August Air India notification, under which, pilots would be removed from workman category, thereby effectively barring the flight commanders from being part of any union. (See: Air India pilots on war path, 30 senior Dreamliner pilots leave).

About 30 senior Boeing 787 Dreamliner pilots are reported to have resigned from Air India in quick succession even as one of the major pilots unions had served notice on the national carrier demanding immediate recall of a notification that has removed commanders from the workmen category.

According to the carrier, which clarified to the ministry of labour and employment, the role of the pilot in command at Air India was of a managerial and administrative nature and might not fall under the definition of workmen.

The ICPA vote in favour of strike comes at a time after the new Air India chairman and managing director Ashwani Lohani had cautioned against indiscipline. ''The organisation shall always maintain zero tolerance to indiscipline,'' he wrote in his first letter to employees on 11 September.

A 1980 batch Indian Railways Service officer, Lohani assumed charge on 31 August as chairman and managing director of Air India for a three-year period.

The carrier which is deep in the red is surviving on a Rs30,000-crore government bailout. It had a total debt of Rs40,000-crore as on 31 March, and was expected to turn around only by 2018-19.