Despite India reporting more than 300,000 coronavirus infections each day for more than a week, travelling within the country has not been suspended. With several states putting a negative COVID-19 test as a requirement for travellers, intercity trains and flights are ferrying hundreds of people from one part of the country to another.
Air India pilots’ union warned the airline authorities on Tuesday that its members would cease working if the national carrier does not organise vaccination camps for staff across India as a matter of priority.
The union laid out its demands in a letter to Air India’s management, and it has been supported in its efforts by the Indian Commercial Pilots’ Association (ICPA) – an umbrella organisation for Indian pilots, according to the Hindustan Times.
“It is disheartening to see top management make a mockery of pilots discharging their duties in a risky environment. We were hoping that Air India would not let down the crew and their families who have stood by the nation during this pandemic… We feel let down by the self-serving approach of management, which sees no injustice in organising vaccine camps at a few bases but excluding pilots,” the reported letter reads.
The Mumbai-headquartered ICPA further highlighted that in recent months, crew members of several airlines including Air India have tested positive because of being exposed to coronavirus while on duty.
The pilots have said that they support India’s “Vande Bharat Mission” – the initiative undertaken by the government to bring stranded Indians home during the COVID-19 pandemic – but their health needs to be protected against the pandemic as well.
“Our finances are already spread thin, looking after our bedridden colleagues and providing for families so that we do not inadvertently infect them with the deadly virus that is an ever-present occupational hazard for us,” the letter concludes, highlighting the enormous salary cuts and lost incentives such as health insurance that the Indian airlines staff have had to struggle with during this health crisis.
Air India has yet to comment on the letter.
The news comes just as India is struggling to meet the staggering demand of vaccines because of how long they take to produce.
Recently, several Indian state governments have complained about a shortage of vaccines and told the central government they were unable on 1 May to begin inoculation of the population who are more than 18 years old.
On 19 April, the federal government had announced a “liberalised’ policy with a view to extending the coronavirus vaccination drive in the country. The states had been given the freedom to buy supplies directly from vaccine manufacturers to speed the process up.
Federal Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan has, however, denied claims that there are vaccine shortages across the country. In a recent tweet he praised the vaccination drive.