People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 19

May 08, 2011




Management Responsible for Grievances, Revenue Losses


IN a letter addressed to Vayalar Ravi, minister for civil aviation, on April 29, CITU vice president M K Pandhe has pointed out the various steps taken by the Air India management to favour the private sector, reducing in this process the market share of Air India in a planned manner. Pandhe also pointed out that both Indian Airlines and Air India were running well prior to their merger but that the merged company has become sick due to mismanagement, wasteful expenditure and pro-private sector policies.


In this background, Pandhe has demanded that the minister must call a meeting of all the trade unions operating in Air India in order to find an agreeable solution to the present impasse.


Pandhe’s letter to the minister of civil aviation followed his attempts on several occasions to get an appointment with the minister. The CITU leader was not given an appointment by that time.


Iterating the point that the avoidable strike of Air India pilots has been causing extreme difficulties for the Air India passengers, Pandhe added that the strike is likely to bring down the airline’s market share which is already declining very fast.


Of late, the public concern about the working of the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Air India has become quite pressing and those who wish a strengthening of the public sector are extremely worried about the future of the Air India itself.


The scam in issuing licenses to fake pilots by the Ministry of Civil Aviation has shocked the entire country. While the police have taken action against some pilots and officials, the Ministry of Civil Aviation has not taken any strong action, nor even ordered a high level enquiry into the matter. In this connection, the CITU leader’s missive pointed out that the daughter of an official of the ministry got a pilots license while she had studied in a school having no aeroplane or hangar in Raipur. This state of licensing has caused serious apprehensions among the airline passengers about their safety.


The letter also pointed out how the electronic media have highlighted the issue of lucrative routes of Air India being handed over to private sector in a planned manner, causing severe loss of revenue to the public sector undertaking. However, no enquiry has been conducted to fix up the responsibility for such a serious revenue loss. This has emboldened the Air India management to openly favour the private sector airlines in other ways also and damaged the interests of the Air India. The Ministry of Civil Aviation has not taken any action to protect the interest of the public sector carrier.


Another aspect which Pandhe drew attention to is that the lucrative ground handling job has been handed over to the private sector, again causing severe revenue losses to the public sector. 


And to top it all, after outsourcing the profit making routes to the private sector, Air India is now complaining that it is burdened with surplus manpower. This is totally unjustified, the CITU leader said.


Over three years have passed since the merger of Air India and Indian Airlines in August 2007. However, the Air India management has not even deemed it necessary to bring uniformity in the pay scales and working conditions. This, Pandhe’s letter stressed, is demoralising the employees of the company who do not see any future for them. In this connection, the letter has also quoted an example. While the Air India pilots are getting fixed 80 hours flying allowance per month, even if they are flying less then 80 hours in a month, the erstwhile Indian Airlines pilots are paid allowance only for the actual hours of flying they have been allotted in a month.


It is surprising that, even after more than three years of merger of the two companies, the Air India management has not taken any steps to introduce uniform working conditions for all the of Air India employees.


Further, due to the Air India’s withdrawal from the lucrative routes, its management has drastically reduced the flying hours of the pilots who are now underutilised.


Another extremely sad thing in this regard is that the Air India management have not implemented even the recommendations of Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport and of the Committee on Public Undertakings. This utter disregard for parliamentary committees is a matter of serious concern for the trade union movement in India.


The CITU leader also pointed out that it is just due to the obduracy of the Air India management that the talks with the striking pilots before the Chief Labour Commissioner (Central) have not come to any fruitful conclusion. This has resulted in the failure of conciliation. The Chief Labour Commissioner (Central) has clearly put the entire blame on the Air India management for the failure of the talks.


Yet another aspect the CITU leader’s missive has pointed out is that there has been no wage revision in Air India since 1997. However, its employees have been working with devotion, in the hope that the management would address their genuine grievances when the company improves its financial position. But the employees are extremely perturbed as the steps being taken by the chairman are only making the company still sicker.


It is a matter of serious concern that 40 employees who are members of Air Corporations Employees Union and 2 employees of All India Engineers Association are still facing termination of services for nearly one year. Though the unions have expressed deep regret for the unfortunate agitation and the Ministry of Civil Aviation has agreed to take the employees back on duties, the assurance is yet to be implemented. The Air India management is imposing humiliating conditions on these employees for taking them back on duty.


It is a matter worth referring to the CBI for investigation as to how the Indian Airlines and Air India, which were working well earlier, have become sick after the merger of the two companies. There are several examples of wasteful expenditure, nepotism and corruption as well as of clandestine attempts to favour the private sector at the cost of Air India. This criminal negligence in a premier public sector undertaking requires serious investigation and the guilty authorities, who are out to destroy the public sector, deserve drastic punishment for their shady role in destroying the public sector culture. In fact, one finds that the present chairman of Air India has been adopting a hostile attitude towards the employees and the latter are as a result a much frustrated lot in the country.


But Pandhe’s letter regretted that instead of taking stringent action against the culprits, the employees are being penalised without any justification. In these circumstances, the termination of employees’ services, derecognition of unions or sealing of the union offices can in no way help in solving the problem, the letter stressed.


The CITU leader has therefore urged the minister to take a dispassionate view of the whole question and convene a meeting of all the important trade unions with a view to finding a way out of the present impasse and restoring the old glory of the Air India and Indian Airlines. The letter has expressed the hope that being one of the senior most trade union leaders in the country, the minister would realise that the involvement of workers and employees is most crucial in reviving the Air India’s financial position and market share. Asking the minister to appreciate the gravity of the situation, the letter urged him to take urgent steps to restore normalcy in the undertaking and take steps to revitalise the premier national carrier in the interest of the country.


Repeating his plea for an appointment in order to discuss the matter with the minister in detail, Pandhe said that an involvement of all the employees of Air India, the public sector undertaking in civil aviation, is what we need to reach a break-even point at an early date.




In the meantime, through a statement issued on May 1, the All India State Government Employees’ Federation (AISGEF) has demanded that the Air India management and the Ministry of Civil Aviation must take steps to settle the Air India pilots’ strike immediately.


While the Air India pilots are on a strike for several days, which has paralysed the national carrier, the Civil Aviation Ministry of the government of India has unfortunately taken no steps in this direction. Rather, instead of starting a dialogue with the association of Air India pilots, the ministry has launched vindictive actions against them and several of the pilots have been dismissed, their union has been derecognised and the strike has been declared illegal.


Issued by Sukomal Sen, its vice president, the AISGEF statement said in this regard that formation of unions and trade union protests constitute a basic and fundamental right of the workers under the Indian constitution.


As it is, the pilots are not a part of the Air India management but are, under the labour laws, treated as workmen, irrespective of the amount of salary and other perks they enjoy.


It is understood that the Air India managing director’s harsh and arbitrary attitude towards the pilots and other categories of staff is one of the reasons of the strike. Moreover, the latest news is that the Air India authorities are negotiating with the Kingfisher airlines, owned by a top industrialist of the country, and the news goes that the government is preparing to take on wet lease the Kingfisher’s aircraft which will fly in the name of Air India. As the Kingfisher airlines is in a deep financial crisis, the question is whether the Air India authorities are bent upon bailing out this private enterprise.  


Moreover, taking advantage of the Air India strike, other private airlines have raised their fares abnormally and are thus making windfall profits.


In view of the current situation, the All India State Government Employees’ Federation has urged upon the government to immediately talk to the pilots’ association, vacate all victimisations and reach a negotiated settlement in order to save the national carrier from further losses.