Thursday, September 17, 2009

Do people strike for Money or right?

Captain Sam Thomas, joint secretary, National Aviators’ Guild (NAG), who was sacked by Jet Airways for forming a union of pilots. Some excerpts from his recent interview with BS.

Pilots are highly paid, about Rs 600,000 a month, which makes people wonder why they should want to form a union or a guild. You are hardly workers in that sense.

If highly paid people are not workers and can’t form unions, the Constitution of India should mention it. We don’t cease to have the right to form unions just because we are highly paid. Tell me, if all journalists are paid Rs 600,000 a month and asked to do domestic work, would you not form a union and fight for your rights?

The government and the public feel that you have wronged the passengers by going on strike.

The needs of the public are our prime concern. In fact, one of the agreements we have with the management is concerning flight safety and it is being flouted. There is a regulation that pilots can work only for a certain number of hours. But the management influences the DGCA (Director General of Civil Aviation) to subvert these conditions. Doesn’t that compromise flight safety? Recently, when two pilots fell asleep, what was the public reaction? What do you think happened to them?

It could be a party hangover.

I don’t blame the perception. We don’t want to change it. But pilots know that if they are drunk, they will be the first to die. So, pilots will never do such a thing unless they want to die. The truth was that those pilots were fatigued as they had not slept the previous night.

This resistance to having unions is pointed out as a trend among private companies and as a sign of globalisation. Even companies that have unions in their own countries don’t want them in India. Do you agree?

Look at private aviation companies in India other than Jet. None of them allows formation of unions. Privatisation is one thing but what about the benefits they want from the government and from the employees? Their argument is that pilots can’t go on strike as they earn high salaries, that they are not workers. But how do you explain the fact that our bosses, who earn a thousand times more than us, formed federations and were bullying the government for financial aid just a few weeks ago?

The government feels that you are workmen under the law and you have the right to form a union. But it also feels that you have no right to go on strike when the conciliation process is on. You should have gone to the labour commissioner instead?

I know what the idea is. The management will find a legal way to keep us down. They will say that the talks are on but the next hearing will be after three months and the subsequent one after five months. So, we will keep flying as we cannot strike work when the talks are on.

But that is how it is. You can’t go on strike.

Ok . But who says we are on strike? We are not on strike. All of a sudden, 400 people can fall ill due to food poisoning. We can get medical certificates to prove our illness.

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