UAE-India Flights Disrupted in Jet Airways Pilot Protest


UAE-India flights disrupted in Jet Airways pilot protest

ABU DHABI - SEP. 09: About 200 airline passengers in Dubai and Abu Dhabi missed flights to India yesterday because of a protest by pilots at Jet Airways, the company said. About a third of the Indian carrier’s planes were grounded.

The dispute over the fate of two sacked pilots affected 115 out of 346 flights on Tuesday, including three in the UAE.

The two pilots were fired for “working against the company’s interest,” the Associated Press reported, citing the company’s spokesman. The remaining pilots staged what appeared to a sick-leave call-in.

“It’s obviously a co-ordinated, for lack of a better word, sabotage,” said Rammohan Krishamaswamy, the company’s Gulf and Middle East manager.

The company operates five daily round trips between Dubai and India, as well as two between Abu Dhabi and India.

A flight from Abu Dhabi to New Delhi, at 11.50pm on Monday, was cancelled. One scheduled for 12.35am on Tuesday had already been cancelled because of low demand during Ramadan, Mr Krishamaswamy said.

Flights from Dubai to Mumbai at 12.35am and 10.50pm yesterday were also cancelled. Flights to Chennai at 2.25pm and Hyderabad at 12.50pm went ahead. A trip from Sharjah to Cochin at 2.15pm was also completed.

Mr Krishamaswamy said the company would try to accommodate passengers affected by the delays in its other planned flights or on other airlines, as well as offer flight reschedules at no penalty. Individuals will be granted a full refund of their tickets if they ask for it, he said.

Automated SMS messages were being sent to customers to keep them updated on the status of their flights, in addition to hourly updates on the company’s India website with details of cancelled voyages.

“For the time being we’re not taking any reservations for the affected routes,” said Sonia Saran, an executive in the company’s corporate communications department. “Definitely it has affected the overall operation of the airline.”

There was confusion as to whether the alleged protest might continue today.

“Since it’s not technically a strike and they just called in sick, they will not be able to continue being sick without seeing the company doctor,” Mr Krishamaswamy said. “The situation is very fluid.”

He said that “a couple of hundred” passengers in the UAE were affected, but declined to clarify whether this included both inbound and outbound flights. He said demand for outbound flights from the UAE during Ramadan was low, with the bulk of passengers inbound to the country after returning from holidays.

In a statement posted on its website, JA insisted that any strike was illegal because the company was in negotiations to resolve the dispute. It said the Regional Labour Commissioner had categorically stated that any strike by the pilots during conciliation process would be deemed illegal. The Industrial Disputes Act of 1947, which regulates labour disputes, prohibits strikes and lockouts during conciliation talks, calling them “unnecessary and inexpedient.”

Dubai Airport said it had been aware of the dispute since Tuesday morning, but that it was an airline issue and the airport’s management was not involved.

Illegal workers held in Dubai sweeps

UAE - SEP. 09: More than two dozen illegal workers were apprehended in Dubai last week as the Government continued a clampdown on illicit employment, authorities have said.

Combined inspection teams from the Ministries of Labour and Environment found 25 people working illegally at 11 companies in the emirate.

Seven of the workers had entered the country illegally, while others were on visitor visas or had absconded from other employers. Last week’s inspections were the sixth round of checks this year by the joint inspection teams. The Dubai clampdown mirrors campaigns in Abu Dhabi, Fujairah and Ras al Khaimah.

Violations of employment laws are declining, said Eisa al Zarouni, the director of the inspection department at the Ministry of Labour in Dubai.

He attributed the fall to increasing awareness of the risks involved in violations. The companies and workers involved in the latest round of violations were referred to Dubai Public Prosecution and other authorities, Mr al Zarouni said.

Talal Shanqeeti, assistant director general for investigation at the Dubai Naturalization and Residency Department, praised the inspection efforts.

“The success of the joint campaigns between the two ministries is an example of what can be achieved through concerted efforts between stakeholders,” he said.

‘Do not panic,’ health minister urges

ABU DHABI - SEP 09: The Minister of Health urged people not to panic about swine flu and insisted the emirates would have enough of the vaccine to control the impact of the H1N1 virus.

At a public meeting yesterday, Dr Hanif Hassan revealed that the death toll had risen to six after two further deaths were confirmed yesterday morning.

A 75-year-old woman and an eight-month-old baby were the latest victims of the virus. Dr Hassan emphasised that most of the deaths have occurred in the high risk groups.

Urging people not to overreact, he said: “The situation is under control; do not panic. I think the country made all the right efforts to prepare for the virus at the beginning.

“The point is [the virus] is here; it is wherever you go in the world. So we must remember that it does not need to be dangerous if it is found and treated early. The death rate is very low.”

The meeting in Abu Dhabi was attended by officials from the Ministry of Labour and education authorities, as well as members of the media.

When asked about an apparent lack of transparency in releasing statistics and updates on the pandemic, Dr Hassan said it was focusing its efforts on raising awareness in the public field, rather than releasing figures.

He explained that it can take up to three weeks for the H1N1 virus to be confirmed as a cause of death, and that the ministry would not release any official information until it had all the details in order to avoid unnecessary panic.

Dr Ali bin Shakar, the undersecretary of the Ministry of Health and chairman of the National Committee to Combat Swine Flu, said the UAE was not focusing on collecting the numbers of individual cases, in line with guidance from the World Health Organisation.

He also said the plans for prioritising administration of the vaccine, which is expected to be ready from October onward, had not been finalised as the situation was “still changing”.

“We have already ordered enough vaccine to cover between 10 and 15 per cent of the population in line with recommendations from the World Health Organisation,” he said.

“We will also implement it following the recommendations.” He declined to comment on which at-risk groups the ministry would vaccinate first, or how the vaccination programme would work.

He also said the UAE was one of the first countries anywhere to place an order for the vaccine with an international pharmaceutical company, but would not say which. The World Health Organisation has said that health workers should be among the first to be vaccinated, followed by other at-risk groups. The health minister emphasised raising awareness through various media channels, schools and health facilities.

A number of H1N1 public health materials have been printed including posters, leaflets and a public health television advert. These have been distributed in schools, malls and mosques.

Dr Mohammad Mattar al Qabi, director of the Abu Dhabi Religious Affairs Authority, said people had been educated in mosques about prevention, including advice to avoid the traditional Emirati nose greeting.

He also said the fatwa hotline received, on average, 4,500 phone calls each month and that everyone who called would be educated about the influenza.

The ministry has also released strict guidelines for schools, including protocols on following up on any pupils who are off sick and setting up an isolation room for pupils who appear ill at school.

It has issued instructions that schools must contact parents of absent children to establish exactly what is wrong.

Strict guidelines have also been released in time for haj. Pilgrims will be required to fill out a health form as a prerequisite to being allowed on the journey. In order to re-enter the UAE the pilgrim will need to fill out another form detailing their health condition while they were at haj.

All the GCC health ministers decided last month to ban children, the elderly and those with chronic diseases from taking the trip to Mecca.

Information on preventive measures will also be issued in Friday sermons, taraweeh (night prayers during Ramadan), religious lectures, posters on vehicles belonging to haj and umrah tour operators and haj information packs. “People should not panic but they should be careful,” Dr Shakar said. “There is no need for people to panic; just check for symptoms and get treated. People should be rational and have an open mind.”

The delegates at yesterday’s meeting dismissed reports that schools would close because of the H1N1 virus and said some had already “overreacted”.

Dr Ali bin Shakar, undersecretary of the Ministry of Health and chairman of the National Committee to Combat Swine Flu, said: “We have got a full curriculum for training and ways to deal with any suspected cases.”

Health and education authorities have been holding training sessions for school staff to prepare them for any potential outbreaks of the virus. Fact sheets including everything from hygiene tips to step-by-step guides on how to handle a suspected case have been handed out to every school, Dr Shakar said.

A number of schools have informed parents of temporary closures as a precautionary measure but have not reported any positive cases.

“We have given out lots of documents and there wasn’t a single one which said close the school. Closing schools has been overreaction.”

Companies spread message throughout labour camps

UAE - SEP. 09: Although much attention has been paid to preventing the spread of swine flu at airports, schools and hospitals, the country’s tens of thousands of labour camps also present an epidemiologist’s nightmare.

Most of the millions of labourers are housed in dense accommodations, sometimes sleeping six or more to a room and with limited access to hygiene facilities.

Although there have yet to be any recorded cases of the disease among labourers, the diversity of languages – including Malayalam, Urdu, Hindi, Bangla and Nepalese – makes it harder to reliably warn workers of the risks, as does the high level of illiteracy.

At yesterday’s briefing, Saqar Ghobash, the labour minister, said his department was preparing guidance for labour camps, which should be ready this week.

Until now, camps have largely been left to take the initiative.

ETA Ascon Star, which employs 72,000 workers across the UAE, has already gone its own way, introducing a programme of screening, hygiene measures and awareness campaigns to try to keep the H1N1 virus away. This week, the company, which houses its workers in 24 camps, will hold a meeting to invite other employers, including Dulsco, Arabtec and Tadweer, to implement the same safeguards.

Mohitheen Batcha, ETA’s corporate welfare manager, said: “We noted that action was being taken in other places and decided it was also necessary in our camps, where the risk of spreading is higher because of the proximity of inhabitation and lack of awareness among the labourers.

“All new residents at our labour camps are now routinely checked for the virus. We have also provided training to all our camp managers on how to identify and manage a case of swine flu.”

The company has put posters in English, Hindi, Tamil and Bangla in communal areas in all its camps.

ETA has been co-ordinating checks between hospitals and its own medical centres.

It intends to contact Dubai Municipality and the Ministry of Labour once the scheduled meeting has been convened.

At the company’s Sonapur camp in Dubai, two workers went to hospital after flu-like symptoms were detected but both tested negative.

Dr Khalid Hussain holds two three-hour clinics a day at the camp.

“We have been working to educate the workers on swine flu and the importance of being checked if they suffer any symptoms,” he said.

Possible swine flu victims will be treated in isolation rooms until they can be taken to hospital for free tests. They will receive full pay while sick.

“If someone tests positive we will place all residents living in the same block under surveillance but they will only be tested if symptoms are identified. They will still go to work,” said Dr Hussain.

Other companies said they were putting in place plans for H1N1 awareness campaigns.

Dulsco, which employs more than 6,000 construction workers, is posting information around camps, and educating employees on the symptoms, according to Mohammed Ayub, a senior manager.

The company planned to screen employees who had visited or passed through affected areas and isolation rooms had been arranged to accommodate suspected cases.

S S Lootah Contracting, another leading construction company, is giving out masks to employees.

“Cases of flu are reported to our medical centre, where we provide primary health care services and medicine to all our workers, but all is well so far,” said Rashid Lootah, a director of the company.

Most workers said they were aware of the flu, but very few knew what precautions could be taken.

“So many of us live together, so if one person gets ill then others will also definitely get it,” said Aaram Ali, a construction worker from India who lives in Sonapur.

Jog Bahadur, the head of an Arabtec camp, said officials from Dubai Health Authority had visited.

“They spoke in Hindi with several workers and advised them on steps that need to be taken,” he said. “People are aware of this problem. No flu cases have occurred.”

Sick workers were given separate rooms until they felt better.

Other workers said that, with many colleagues returning from holiday, concern was even greater.

Companies in Abu Dhabi are also taking prevention steps.

Andrew Broderick, the head of health, safety and environment at the property developer Aldar Properties, runs a labour camp on Yas Island, which is home to about 40,000 workers. “We have a fully functioning clinic on Yas Island that runs 24 hours a day and is capable of handling any cases of swine flu,” he said.

“We have launched a campaign to encourage people to employ good hygiene practices. We are also making sure people are aware of the symptoms.”

The company has set up an isolation ward with about 14 beds in a separate building.

Rajesh Sharma, manager of a camp in Musaffah, said: “We know that there is this terrible fever you get and it is difficult to breathe.

“Usually if someone gets sick, we hear of it. Especially in this case, I am sure if they tested him and he had swine flu, we would all hear.”

So far, he had not heard of any cases.


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