Neelmani Singh, who recently lost her father, is now the sole breadwinner of her family. An aircraft maintenance engineer at the grounded Kingfisher Airlines, Singh, the eldest of four siblings, has not received her salary for the last eighteen months. The family of five is now staring at an uncertain future.
The Vijay Mallya-led airline, after reporting mounting losses and debt, was forced to suspend its operations in October 2012 when aviation regulator, the Directorare General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), withheld its licence following an employee strike for payment of salaries. KFA last paid employees salary for July 2012 — after eight months.
“There were about 9,000 employees when troubles started and only 2,700 have left. Many sold off their flats, jewellery, taken their children out of expensive schools and admitted them to government-run ones, moved to cheaper accommodation and, in some cases, to slums and chawls. Some left the aviation sector and joined call centres,” said Anjan Deveswar, an office bearer of Kingfisher Airlines Maintenance Association.
Mallya’s luxurious lifestyle has also enraged employees, especially at a time when most of them are struggling to make ends meet. Mallya recently bought a Rs. 4-crore-stallion, paid Rs. 14 crore to sign in Yuvraj Singh for his domestic T20 cricket league team Royal Challengers and splurged money on his Formula One motor racing team. All these after he reportedly told agitating KFA employees a few months earlier that he did not have money to pay them. Kingfisher is a bleeding public limited company, while Mallya, who controls it, has significant personal wealth.
A company spokesperson declined to comment when contacted for this story.
“We are finding it difficult to meet our daily needs,” said Pinki Lahiri, an engineer at aircraft maintenance department.
Her biggest worry is getting her four year-old into a good school after the family income got halved.
The wife of a Kingfisher employee in Delhi committed suicide in October 2012. Her suicide note said her husband had not been paid his salary for six months. An Ahmedabad-based employee, afflicted by cancer, pleaded hard with the company for many weeks to get a fraction of the Rs. 9.5 lakh that the company owed him. Another employee, who spends about Rs. 50,000 every month on his son’s medical care, is also staring into an uncertain future.
Unlike maintenance staff, pilots and cabin crew think an open fight against the KFA management may affect their future prospects. The airline had about 400 pilots when the it was grounded in October 2012. The number is now estimated to be less than 100 and all of them face the threat of their licences getting expired.