Air India on Thursday withdrew recognition for two unions and sacked and suspended staff, as flights resumed following industrial action that led to cancellations days after a fatal crash.
The state carrier said it "de-recognised" the All India Aircraft Engineers Association (AIAEA) and the Air Corporations Employees Union (ACEU), accusing them of illegal strike action, causing harassment to passengers, revenue loss and disruption.
Both had "indulged in regular violations" of the company's disciplinary code and acted "in a manner resulting in the disruption of the normal working of the company and breach of industrial peace and harmony," it said in a statement.
India's Civil Aviation Ministry said 42 employees had been dismissed and a further 17 suspended. Media reports said up to 100 in total could be sacked or suspended.
The two-day stoppage by some 15,000 ground crew and engineers, which led to more than 100 flights being cancelled, was called off on Wednesday after Air India obtained a high court injunction ruling that the strike was illegal.
The strike was prompted in part by an alleged gag on staff talking to the media about safety at the company after an Air India Express jet crashed last Saturday, killing 158 of the 166 passengers and crew on board.
Aviation minister Praful Patel had given Air India bosses a free hand to break the strike, calling those involved "irresponsible" for walking out so soon after the disaster near the southwest port city of Mangalore.
In its latest statement, the airline said there was no statutory provision in Indian law for it to automatically recognise unions but it accepted the AIAEA and ACEU on condition they did not disrupt normal operations.
The company is to meet union leaders next Tuesday at its Mumbai headquarters to explain the situation fully, it added.
Air India, which was battling heavy losses and a loss in its share of the domestic aviation market even before the crash and the walk-out, operated 90 percent of its scheduled flights as of 6:00 pm local time (1330 GMT) Thursday.
ACEU general secretary J.B. Kadiyan was defiant despite Air India's action, telling reporters in New Delhi that both unions had served another strike notice next month.
"Air India's (chairman and managing director) Arvind Jadhav is carrying out a dictatorship. He is bent on destroying the airline," he said, describing the company's action as a "conspiracy".
The row is the latest spat between staff and management, who denied issuing the gag order. Last September, Air India pilots staged a five-day strike against wage cuts, leading to the cancellation of 250 flights.
The flag carrier declared a 55.5-billion-rupee (1.16-million-dollar) net loss for the financial year to March 2009 and is expected to report a 54-billion-rupee loss for the 12 months to March 2010.
The government approved an eight-billion-rupee cash injection for the troubled airline in February this year, part of a phased bailout of 50 billion rupees over three years.
But ministers are insisting that the carrier reduce costs to qualify for handouts.
Source: AFP Asian Edition