Air India Suspends Flights, Pilot Strike Goes On

September 29, 2009

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Loss-making state-run Air India has cancelled a quarter of its international and domestic flights and will suspend bookings on more flights due to a strike by its pilots over pay, the carrier's spokesman said on Tuesday.

Around 250 pilots have refused to work since September 26, leaving hundreds of passengers stranded at airports.

The strike, coming just days after protests by pilots of Jet Airways, underlines uneasy labour relations in a country often perceived as a difficult place to conduct business.

Air India's spokesman Jitender Bhargava said talks were continuing between the management and the pilots, but as a precaution the carrier had decided to suspend bookings on some flights for the next 15 days.

"We are still operating services but we have suspended bookings for certain flights," said Bhargava.

Since the strike began, Bhargava said about 40 flights out of the 200 scheduled were being cancelled daily.

Flights which have been affected include flights to New York, London, Chicago and Singapore as well as many domestic routes.

The pilots are protesting against the company's plans to cut incentive pay to its employees by up to 50 percent, in a cost cutting measure affecting over 7,000 of its employees.

The pay cut is applicable to all senior staff, including top management.

Air India has been struggling after it posted a USD$875 million loss in the fiscal year ended March and it has sought a government bailout.

A World Bank report on ease of doing business ranked India a lowly 122 of 181 countries and suggested greater flexibility in labour laws would help create more jobs and reduce poverty.

Earlier this month, Jet Airways was hit by a strike, when 760 of its pilots protested against the sacking of four of their colleagues for indiscipline after they tried to form a union.

(Reuters)