‘NCLT or strike’: Air India employees to decide on method to stall privatisation
Fed up with the uncertainty over their own future tagged with the fate of Air India, airline employees are in the process to deciding to either take the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) route to recover their dues or declare a general strike to put pressure on the government from privatising the national carrier.
The two options were arrived after all the recognised AI unions and other employee bodies met in Mumbai.
However, a final course of action will be decided after further discussion and is expected soon. If the strike option is chosen, then it will be initiated from January 8, 2020.
The decision to consider either the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) route or the strike comes days after the airline’s pilots and engineers demanded immediate payment of their dues.
“We all met today and have decided that the privatisation exercise should cease immediately and some clarity be provided first,” a senior office bearer of engineers’ union told IANS from Mumbai.
“The country can not afford to loose the national carrier which provides affordable travel options to passengers. It is also an engine of economic growth during the time of slowdown.”
On Monday, the airline’s pilot union had requested the Centre to allow them to quit the passenger carrier without serving their notice periods.
“We are in a state of distress,” a senior officer office-bearer of the pilots union, the Indian Commercial Pilots’ Association (ICPA), told IANS.
“If the government wants to close down the airline, then they should say so and relieve us as soon as possible, so that we can find alternate employment. We also want that our notice period should also be waived-off.”
On Monday, the ICPA in a letter to Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said: “It is unfair for the Government of India to keep us bonded with the notice period while we are not being paid on time and our dues are not cleared.”
Terming the Civil Aviation Minister’s statement that if Air India is not privatised by March 31, 2020, the airline will be shut down as “a matter of concern”, the pilots’ union said in the letter: “With this uncertainty over the survival of our national carrier and with no ‘Plan B’, we request you to ensure that we are not treated like bonded labour and allow us to quit Air India without serving the notice period and clear all our dues immediately.”
At present, the union has 800 pilots as its members. As per the letter, currently 65 pilots have tendered their resignations and are serving the six-month notice period which is due for completion “very soon”.
The Centre is likely to issue the expression of interest (EoI) for divestment of its stake in national passenger carrier during the first month of 2020.
Home Minister Amit Shah heads the panel looking after the divestment process. Its other members include Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Commerce and Railway Minister Piyush Goyal and the Civil Aviation Minister.
In the previous Modi government, then Finance Minister Arun Jaitley headed the Ministerial panel, called the Air India Specific Alternative Mechanism (AISAM).
After failing to find a bidder then, the government is working on a war footing to sell Air India to a private player.
Air India has a total debt of about Rs 58,000 crore. The cumulative loss of the national carrier is to the tune of Rs 70,000 crore. In the financial year ending March 31, 2019, the airline is estimated to have had a loss of Rs 7,600 crore.