Air India employees call off strike after court order

NEW DELHI Wed May 26, 2010 8:25pm IST

Stranded passengers stand outside the Air India counter at the domestic airport in New Delhi May 25, 2010.REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

Stranded passengers stand outside the Air India counter at the domestic airport in New Delhi May 25, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Adnan Abidi

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - A strike at Air India, the country's beleaguered national carrier, ended on Wednesday following a Delhi High Court order urging employees to resume duties and intervention by the government, officials said.

The two-day strike forced dozens of flight cancellations days after one of its aircraft crashed in southern India, killing 158 people.

At least 13,000 passengers were stranded because of the strike called by Air India's ground and technical staff, who said they were protesting against a company "gag" order on union leaders speaking to reporters about Saturday's accident.

The striking employees said the "gag" order had also asked them not to speak about the airline's safety issues or staff problems. They said two of their leaders had been threatened with dismissal for speaking to the media on these issues.

Employees called off the strike after meetings with the Chief Labour Commissioner (CLC) and the Delhi High Court's directive issued on Wednesday, asking employees to resume work as soon as possible, court officials said.

"In view of the court order and successful meetings with the CLC, we have decided to call off the strike," Vivek Rao, general secretary of Air Corp Employees Union, told reporters.

Air India spokesman K. Swaminathan said 76 flights were cancelled on Wednesday. Among them were 18 international flights to destinations including Singapore, Muscat, Abu Dhabi and Bangkok.

Flights to the United States, Britain, Tokyo, Hong Kong and other long-haul destinations were operating, he said.

Some 15,000 employees had joined the strike.

The ailing airline is expected to lose millions of rupees in refunds. The airline lost $875 million in the fiscal year ended March 2009.

An aircraft of the airline's budget arm Air India Express crashed while negotiating a tricky landing in Mangalore on Saturday, killing all but eight of 166 people on board in India's worst air disaster in a decade.

The reasons for the crash are not yet known and investigators were analysing the plane's flight data recorder.

(Reporting by Aniruddha Basu and Raashi Bhatia; Editing by Bappa Majumdar and Ron Popeski)

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