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‘Collect Dues From Airlines, Private Operators’: AAI Staff Oppose Austerity Measures

Ronak Chhabra |
To deal with the COVID-19 induced financial stress, the AAI management had proposed deferral in payment of salary and perks, along with suspension of overtime payments.
‘Collect Dues From Airlines, Private Operators’: AAI Staff Oppose Austerity Measures

Image Courtesy: Mint

New Delhi: Multiple unions and staff associations, representing different sections of employees of the Airport Authority of India (AAI), have opposed the austerity measures proposed by the management in the wake of pandemic-triggered challenges, Newsclick has learnt.

The management of AAI, a statutory body that is responsible for creating and maintaining civil aviation infrastructure in the country, in a meeting held on Thursday discussed with the employees’ bodies the likely steps that the former is considering to take in the coming days to overcome the financial losses.

The proposed measures include a deferral in payment of salary and perks, amounting to about 35% of the basic pay, to next year; suspension of overtime payment and review of encashment of leave policy, among others.

The decision is reportedly inspired after the AAI, that currently manages over 100 airports across the country with about 17,000 employees on its roll, incurred losses – first time since its inception – due to impact caused by COVID-19 pandemic. Due to a steep fall in traffic at various airports, the statutory body registered a 65%  decline in its revenue in the financial year 2021.

The proposal, however, hasn’t gone down well with the employees’ union and eight other staff associations. On Thursday itself, in a letter addressed to AAI chairman, the Airport Authority Employees’ Union (AAEU) apprised the management of its reservations.

“We oppose any deferment/cut in salary as most of the employees are having their near and dear ones recently gone through COVID-19 and have paid heavy hospital bills… they are unable to sustain any deferment/cut in salary more over [as] it will defiantly give adverse effect on the moral of the hardworking AAI employees which will not be good for AAI as a whole,” AAEU wrote in the letter.

The union also submitted in the letter its recommendations to deal with the financial stress.

Balraj Singh Ahlawat, general secretary, AAEU, told Newsclick on Friday that all the staff associations and the union were unanimous in their opposition to the austerity measures proposed in Thursday’s meeting.

“It was an executive-director level meeting. The higher management will now be informed of our opposition after which we are expecting to be called once again for another meeting,” he said. The union is hoping that the management will consider its recommendations rather than deferring employees’ salaries, Ahlawat added.

Among the recommendations, the employees’ union instead proposed to defer the capital expenditure on airport infrastructure for a period of  two years, and that on the development and maintenance of residential colony, community centre and allied amenities “till such time AAI revenue reached profitable curve.”

The union also recommended that steps be initiated to collect dues from airlines and private airport operators. It also said that the AAI’s reserved cash that was “withdrawn by the Government” can be claimed back.

Ahlawat hoped the union’s recommendations are “seriously” considered by the management.  Asked about staff salaries reportedly constituting the biggest chunk of expenditure incurred by AAI, as per provisional figures, Ahlawat argued that it “can’t be the reason to then cut salaries.”

“AAI is engaged in providing service to the public for which manpower is needed. During financial stress, this can’t be the reason to cut salaries and other options could be considered,” he said.

Notably, the past few years have witnessed heightened efforts to privatise the AAI-owned airports. The Narendra Modi – led Central government has already privatised six airports last year, while the Ministry of Civil Aviation has identified 13 more for monetisation. This is in addition to the proposal where the Centre is looking to divest the remaining equity stakes held by AAI in the Delhi (26%), Mumbai (26%), Bengaluru (13%) and Hyderabad (13%) airports.

It should come as no surprise that privatisation of the airports has adversely impacted AAI’s revenues and margins – an argument made earlier by experts, unions, associations among others.

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