(Eds: Updates with Air India statement)
Mumbai/New Delhi, May 4 (PTI) National carrier Air India on Tuesday said it will vaccinate all its employees against COVID-19 by the month-end as a pilots' body demanded inoculation of the flying crew on priority basis citing risk to their lives from the deadly infection.
Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA), a union body that represents pilots who fly narrow-body aircraft, in a letter has threatened to stop work if the airline management would not start vaccination camps across India for the flying crew immediately.
The airline said in a statement on Tuesday evening said that discussions were already on for the vaccination of all the employees, including the crew.
"As the guidelines did not allow vaccination of persons below 45 years of age, Air India could not complete the vaccination," it noted.
Since from May 1, all persons above 18 years of age can be vaccinated, a schedule for vaccination is now being drawn up and it is expected to commence as early as next week and all employees will be vaccinated by the end of this month, it said.
"The schedule is also being drawn up keeping in mind that crew who do not have fixed working days," it noted.
India has been badly hit by the second wave of the coronavirus infection as hospitals in several states are reeling under a severe shortage of oxygen, drugs, equipment and beds.
The ICPA has demanded vaccination camps across the country for the flying crew on priority basis citing risk to their lives amid the second wave of the pandemic.
In a letter to Air India director for operations R S Sandhu, the ICPA threatened to stop work if the management fails to come up with such camps.
Alleging that many crew have been tested positive for Covid-19 and are struggling to get oxygen cylinders, the ICPA said that the pilots are left to fend for themselves for hospitalization.
Amid all this, the management continues to do what it does best, providing lip service, it said.
"It is disheartening to witness the top management make a mockery of pilots discharging their duties in a risky environment. We were hoping that Air India will not let down the crew and their families who stand by the nation during this pandemic, but the management yet again drags its feet when it comes to the safety of its employees and is creating a caustic work environment without any reproach or consequence, the pilots' body said in the letter.
The Association also alleged that there is no health care support or insurance to the flying crew.
"We are in no position to continue risking the lives of our pilots without vaccination ... If Air India fails to set up vaccination camps on a pan-India basis for the flying crew above the age of 18 years on priority, we will stop work," the ICPA has warned. PTI IAS DSP MR ABM