The two-day Air India strike came to an end on Wednesday after the Delhi high court said it was illegal and the national carrier dismissed 17 officials, including union leaders, and suspended 15 engineers, in the strongest action it has taken against labour unrest.

The airline said as many as 73 flights were affected, with revenue losses running into Rs12 crore. The international services disrupted included flights to Singapore, Kathmandu, Dubai, Muscat and Abu Dhabi, a Delhi airport official said.

“We don’t want to compromise on three issues—accountability, discipline and service to passengers,” Air India chairman and managing director Arvind Jadhav said at a press briefing in Delhi, justifying the action taken by the management.

J.B. Kadian, general secretary of the Air Corporation Employees Union (Aceu), which claims the support of more than 12,000 of the 31,000 Air India employees, was among those sacked. He couldn’t be reached for comments.

“The way the passengers have been treated is completely unacceptable,” said a senior civil aviation ministry official. More people may be sacked or dismissed with the number rising by as many as 40 more, he said. The official said the carrier had wanted to take similar action in September, when pilots had reported sick on four days in a row to protest against salary cuts. That disruption had cost the airline some Rs80 crore in lost revenue. The carrier and the government are prepared to face a partial lockout if labour trouble persists, this official said.

While schedules are expected to be restored on Thursday, any further action by workers will continue to throw flights out of gear. “Now it’s going to get bad, this is going to precipitate (events),” said an Air India official who did not want to be named.

The airline management has said it will crack down on erring employees and has asked departments to prepare a list of those signing in, but performing their tasks. Employees found to be participating in any labour action will be counselled and then issued a warning, Jadhav said. Flights will take two-four days to get back to normal, the chairman said.

Earlier on Wednesday, aviation minister Praful Patel signalled the government’s backing for Jadhav.
“Air India management is free to take all appropriate action and I am sure they are going to adequately respond,” he said after briefing the Union Cabinet and the Prime Minister. “The management needs to act adequately and firmly.”

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