The state government on Wednesday sealed a building near Churchgate that houses Eros theatre — a landmark in the city — along with 24 other establishments for non-payment of dues by Cambata Aviation Private Limited — which owns the building — to its employees.
Cambata Aviation, the country’s oldest private ground handler, ceased operations in Mumbai and Delhi last year, leaving more than 1,000 employees in the lurch.
The action was taken by the Mumbai collector’s office weeks after the state labour department filed a criminal offence against the company for allegedly refusing to cooperate with government officials.
“We have attached the property as per the labour court schedule. The company has not paid salaries to the employees which amounts to more than Rs4.45 crore,” said Ashwini Joshi, Mumbai collector.
Officials from the collector’s office on Wednesday afternoon reached Cambata Building with heavy police security and sealed the entire building. Initially, there was some resistance by the occupants, but they finally gave in.
Meanwhile, the Bombay high court directed the collector’s office to unseal four of the 24 offices sealed in the building. The court order came following an urgent mention made by Galaxy Aviation Company, occupies four office spaces inside the building.
Galaxy Aviation had filed a petition on Tuesday through its counsel, advocate Ashok Purohit, challenging the collector’s notice that was pasted on the property a few days ago. Purohit had submitted that the notice was not tenable by law since it had no role to play in the dispute between Cambata Aviation and its employees. Justice KK Tated of the high court has now directed the collector’s office to de-seal the four offices occupied by Galaxy by 10.30am on Thursday.
The company is yet to pay the salaries and dues of the employees. The decision was taken after the company lost all the airline ground handling contracts to rivals — Celebi and Bird Worldwide Flight Service (BWFS). Later, both the rival companies had absorbed around 600 employees of Cambata Aviation, but the other 1,000 employees remained jobless. Salaries of the employees have been pending since February last year.
Recently chief minister Devendra Fadnavis had directed the firm to clear all pending dues of employees immediately. He and state legislative council chairman Ramraje Nimbalkar had held seven meetings with various stake-holders regarding the issue.
“CM and Council Chairman came to the conclusion that as per labour laws there should be strict action taken against the firm and hence it should clear all pending dues of employees with immediate effect and transfer them to new agency,” said the statement issued by CMO. The issue also witnessed some politicking after anti-corruption activist Anjali Damania took a delegation of the jobless workers to meet Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, who promised to help them. As Thackeray was intervening, Fadnavis and labour minister Sambhaji Nilangekar took up the issue.
Damania told HT 2,700 workers working for the company have not been paid salaries for the past 11 months, which amounts to Rs109.8 crore as of January 2017 and not just Rs4.45 crore. “The workers knocked the doors of the Industrial Court which had passed four separate orders from July 2016, two of which were directing initiation of recovery procedure by seizing of assets of Cambata Aviation. This has created some confusion on the exact amount of pending dues of the employees,” Damania said. She even claimed Galaxy Aviation, which has challenged the order in the high court, is the sister concern of Cambata Aviation.
Questioning the action, Pat Casserly, former COO, Cambata Aviation, said the firm doesn’t own any fixed asset anywhere in the country. “Let the high court decide what is right and what is wrong,” he said.