Mumbai: The union of Jet Airways (India) Ltd pilots’ plans to go to court to challenge its deregistration, even if this jeopardizes a pact it reached with the airline’s management after a debilitating strike four months ago.
Two of its members said the National Aviators’ Guild, or NAG, the union of pilots working for Jet Airways, was considering approaching the Bombay high court to secure a stay against the November deregistration order of the Mumbai labour office.
“The reasons cited by the labour commissioner for deregistration are belittling our intelligence and on frivolous grounds,” one NAG member said on condition of anonymity without giving more details.
Among the reasons cited by the commissioner were a union member’s card not bearing the company’s name and another member not submitting his identity card, the NAG member said.
“Another frivolous reason was an office-bearer had hurriedly submitted the documents without proper scrutiny,” he said.
N.V. Palve, deputy labour commissioner of Maharashtra, said the deregistration was done according to labour laws.
“I have no intimation about Jet pilots’ decision to challenge it in court. But the deregistration has been done on the grounds of misrepresentation of facts. I have issued a detailed order on what are the misrepresented facts and what are the requirements as per the law,” Palve said.
Sanjay Asher, senior partner with Mumbai-based law firm Crawford Bayley and Co., said the registrar had a valid case if he could prove deregistration was done because of misrepresentation of facts. “But it all depends on what the pilots have disclosed before the registrar to get registration. Pilots can prove their case in the court by filing an affidavit,” Asher said.
A Jet Airways spokesperson said the company was not aware of NAG’s plans to challenge its deregistration.
But if NAG goes ahead with the plan, it would be defying a September agreement between the union and the airline management. NAG had then vowed not to pursue re-registration as a union if it was deregistered, as the NAG member quoted above conceded.
The second NAG member added: “Yes, we would not have pursued if the deregistration was on genuine grounds. In this case, the labour commissioner has cited reasons which are challenging our intelligence.”
The agreement was finalized on 13 September, after Jet Airways suffered massive losses due to a five-day pilot strike, the first in the history of the 18-year-old airline. The strike led to nearly 1,300 domestic and 200 international flights being cancelled and a revenue loss of around $16 million (Rs72.6 crore).
The timing of the strike was unfortunate for the airline. The July-September period is typically slack for domestic airlines. The pilots’ action widened its quarterly loss to Rs406.69 crore from a loss of Rs384.53 crore a year earlier. Income from operations fell 34% to Rs2,020.11 crore.
Finally, the pilots and the management agreed that “a consultative group or body (will) be put in place which would have at least two directors from the board of Jet, the chief executive officer and two representatives of the pilots on one side, and would have five representatives of the pilots on the other, so that a continuous process of dialogue can be in place”.
Jet Airways and NAG had said in a joint statement: “All issues that are causing concern to the pilots and all future issues would be discussed and resolved through the mechanism.”
Now that mechanism is under threat. This couldn’t have happened at a worse time for Jet—just when it had begun its flight back to normalcy.
“With the macro-environment turning optimistic and the cost curve of the industry at its bare bones, we expect cash losses of Jet to get limited, marking the beginning of a turnaround,” domestic brokerage IDFC-SSKI Securities Ltd said in a December report.
An analyst with another brokerage said any move that imperils the NAG-Jet Airways agreement could hurt the airline. “The action plan of NAG and its repercussions are not clear at this point in time. If the relationship between pilots and the management worsens in future, this could be troublesome for Jet Airways,” said the analyst, who did not want to be named as he is not authorized to speak to the media.
Jet Airways, which has a fleet strength of 111 aircraft and operates in excess of 410 flights daily, had a market share of 27%, according to November data.