NEW DELHI (AFP) -A strike by ground staff at state-run airline Indian in defiance of a court order to return to work paralysed flights for a second day Thursday, stranding thousands, officials said.
Hamstrung by a staff shortage to handle bags and check-in, dozens of flights from the capital New Delhi, the financial hub Mumbai and the eastern metropolis of Kolkata were cancelled Thursday, said Pulak Mukherjee, a spokesman for Indian, formerly Indian Airlines, at Kolkata.
“Agitation by the striking employees is continuing,” Mukherjee said.
Harried passengers are bearing the brunt of the impasse between the Indian management and the striking employees.
“I arrived here early (Thursday) morning for my flight but I found that it was cancelled. No one informed me of this,” a passenger outside Delhi airport told the CNN-IBN news channel.
An official at Delhi International Airport Ltd said “staff of (India’s state-run international carrier) Air India are pitching in so the situation is a bit better” than at other hubs.
Late Wednesday, the Delhi High Court declared the strike illegal and ordered the 12,000 employees to resume work.
“When there is an open channel before you to resolve the issue, there is no point in going on strike,” said the court ruling according to the Press Trust of India news agency, referring to an invitation for talks by the labour commissioner.
But the striking workers led by J.K. Badola, general secretary of the Air Corporation Employees’ Union, told PTI Thursday that they would not relent though they were “open to talks.”
“We are ready for settlement. We are urging the management not to be adamant,” he added.
On Wednesday, Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel had warned the workers to return to their jobs or “the government will be forced to take stern steps.”
Patel termed the strike illegal and around two dozen employees of the airline were suspended Wednesday, PTI said.
An editorial in the Economic Times Thursday urged strong action against the strikers, noting that “there is no reason why the employees should be allowed to hold hapless passengers to ransom to further their own interests.
“Delayed flights and aggrieved passengers do nothing for brand loyalty,” it said.
Indian operates mostly on domestic routes but does fly to a few international destinations in Southeast Asia and the Gulf.
In February, the government approved a plan to merge Indian Airlines with state-owned carrier Air India, the international flagship, in a bid to compete better in India’s booming aviation sector.
According to recent estimates, Indian — the country’s sole domestic carrier about a decade earlier — has dropped to third place with 21.5 percent of the market as new private high-end and budget carriers moved in to offer cheaper fares and newer aircraft.