Although the Jet Airways pilots called off their wildcat strike on Sunday, their woes may have just begun. On the one hand the Bombay High Court has refused to halt the contempt proceedings against the pilots; and on the other, their attempts to register their guild as a union are floundering.
Early last week, the court had restrained the pilots from going on strike. In defiance of the court order, 460 pilots called in 'sick' collectively the very next day. The Jet Air management complained that they were in contempt of court and sought action.
When the matter came up for hearing, Jet did a volte face, telling the court it wanted to withdraw the contempt petition since the issue had been resolved amicably. C U Singh, counsel for Jet, said the management was not pressing the issue of contempt as per the agreement with the pilots' guild union and said ultimately, the pilots would apologise.
But justice D Y Chandrachud observed that the pilots had violated the chief justice's order, and the agitation had caused a lot of inconvenience to passengers. Giving them a dressing down for "disobeying an earlier court order'' that had restrained the flight commanders going on an "illegal strike'', the judge did not accept the airline management's plea to drop the proceedings.
"Employees of public utility services - even if they are in a private company - cannot hold the people at large to ransom.'' Therefore, contempt proceedings would go on, Chandrachud said. The judge gave the National Aviators' Guild, which spearheaded the strike, two weeks to reply to a show-cause notice as to why it should not be held in contempt.
"In a contempt case, merely because the parties have settled the issue, the matter does not end. I am not concerned with the losses caused to Jet. I am only concerned about the intense inconvenience caused by the pilots to thousands of travellers by their actions,'' the judge said.