Employees of Air India and its subsidiaries, over which spectre of privatisation looms, may strike work in case their concerns are not addressed before the transfer of 100% equity in the national carrier to a private entity, NewsClick has learnt. Representatives of the employee unions and associations said that a decision in this regard will be taken in the coming days.
In a revised push to hawk the debt-laden Air India, the Centre on Monday, announced plans to sell its entire stake in the airline. The government sweetened the deal by absorbing about two thirds of its debt and aims to finalise a sale by the end of March, reports said.
The Modi government didn’t address the grievances raised by the employees’ unions and associations in the preliminary bid document for the strategic disinvestment, alleged Vilas Girdhar, Convener of Joint Forum of Air India Unions and Associations – a joint body comprising 14 employees’ union of the airline and its subsidiaries.
“Two meetings were conducted in the month of January with Mr. Puri [Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri] in which employees’ concerns over salary dues and future job security among others were raised. However, despite making the promises, we don’t see that the issues are addressed in the expressions of interest issued,” Girdhar told NewsClick.
“The Modi government is hurriedly going about with the plan of selling off Air India to meet its fiscal deficit targets,” he further said, adding that this is being done without bringing all the parties into confidence, which will only create more “mess.”
The criticism of the Modi government’s attempt to privatise the national carrier comes at a time when the civil aviation minister is reported to be having no option but to privatise Air India and thus seeking cooperation of the employees for carrying out the process.
On January 27, following announcing divestment of Air India, Puri was also reported as saying that the dues of all employees of Air India, including arrears will be cleared before the closure of the sale transaction. The total employee dues are pegged at around Rs. 1,383.7 crore, as per the Justice Dharamadhikari Commission Report.
“If that [clearing of dues] doesn’t happen, striking work will be our only option,” said General Secretary of Indian Commercial Pilots’ Association (ICPA) Capt. T. Praveen Keerthi, “which will be decided through a ballot in the coming days”.
The 800-member ICPA, also a part of the joint forum, represents the pilots who fly the narrow-body aircraft of Air India.
In addition to the meetings, the joint forum had also written to Puri, reiterating their opposition to the “ill-conceived” decision of the government to sell Air India and its subsidiaries. “It is against the national interest,” said the letter dated January 15 to the aviation minister.
Reports suggest that to overcome the opposition from the employees and the unions and to ensure that the state-owned airline is sold this time, government may introduce voluntary retirement scheme to middle staff, followed by de-recognition of multiple unions. The airline has 17,984 employees, out of which 9,617 are permanent, reported Business Insider.
However, despite the resistance by the employees, the government moves ahead with the plan of selling its entire stake, of which 3% will be to offered to employees as stock options by the new owners, as per the bidding document.
According to Girdhar, there is another set of concerns for the employees as their provident fund, gratuity and other social benefits are in the process to get transferred to a central government scheme. “Our pay scales have not been revised since 2007. If provident fund and medical are to be transferred, then our basic pay should be brought on par with other PSUs,” he said.
Apart from Air India, the Centre also invites bids for 100% stake sale in low-cost airline Air India Express and 50% shareholding in ground-handling company Air India Singapore Airport Terminal Services.
Girdhar blamed the Modi government for not focusing on a “turnaround” plan for the loss-making airline. “The daily losses of Air India are as high as Rs. 26 crore. There is no accountability on the part of the government and the higher management,” he said, questioning the Modi government about what has the government done to revive the airline.
The turnaround plans failed because only agencies were hired who submitted a report and collected their fees; however, nothing was implemented, Girdhar further added.
Also read: Budget 2020: You Did Promise Jobs, Mr. Modi, Didn’t You?