After hours of negotiations, the top management of state-owned carrier Indian Airlines Ltd and its largest workers’ union, which is threatening a “mass leave” on Friday to protest pending arrears, decided to meet labour ministry officials to sort out their differences.
Air Corporations Employees Union (ACEU), which has a following of nearly 14,000 employees at Indian as the New Delhi-headquartered airline is branded, has called for a two-and-a-half hour walkout—between 9am and 11.30am—on Thursday before going on casual leave en masse the following day.
“At this point, the agitation cannot be taken back,” J.B. Kadian, convenor of the joint action committee that represents eight worker groups at Indian, said late on Wednesday after a final meeting with Vishwapati Trivedi, chairman and managing director of the airline. The ACEU representatives and top management at Indian are to meet chief labour commissioner S.K. Mukhopadhyay at 11am.
Friday’s leave could be a precursor to a longer strike, ACEU officebearers said earlier, marking the first such industrial action at the airline in 12 years.
A spokesman for Indian said ACEU representatives were adamant that the airline meet their demands, foremost among which is the payment of 10-year-old arrears amounting to about Rs450 crore, wage revision and promotions.
The latter two issues have been “almost resolved”, but the workers refused to sign an agreement without the payment of arrears, the spokesman said.
“Bilateral negotiations are not coming to a conclusion. So, it is going to be tripartite talks,” another senior executive of Indian said, requesting anonymity because the talks were incomplete. The assent of the unions at Indian is key to the success of an ongoing merger with state-owned international carrier Air India.
According to government rules, a state-owned firm has to be profitable for three consecutive years and have sufficient internal accruals to be able to pay wage arrears. Indian has been profitable in the last three years, but has accumulated losses and says it is unable to meet the huge arrears payment.
Other worker unions at Indian, including those of engineers and pilots, said on Wednesday they would not participate in the boycott or mass leave on Friday as their wages had already been revised in agreements signed in 2006 and this year.