Mumbai: In an indication that it will stand by its Thursday decision to derecognize two labour unions, National Aviation Co. of India Ltd, or Nacil, which operates Air India, will meet all its labour unions on 1 June, except the All India Air Engineers Association(AIAEA) and Air Corporation Employees Union (ACEU), said two senior executives at the airline. Air India has a total of 13 unions, including AIAEA and ACEU, which have been derecognized.
The executives said Air India chairman and managing director Arvind Jadhav is firm in his decision to crack down against striking employees.
The airline will also likely stick to its decision of dismissing 58 executives and suspending another 26, all of who went on a flash strike on 26 May, resulting in the cancellation of 138 flights and revenue loss of at least Rs10 crore.
AIAEA general secretary Y.V. Raju on Thursday had served a fresh notice to Air India, saying 700 union members would strike work starting 12 June to demand withdrawal of the derecognition order as well as reinstatement of the sacked employees.
ACEU’s general secretary J.B. Kadian had served another notice nearly two weeks ago for industrial action starting 31 May, demanding wage renegotiations.
“We are not taking decisions to pull them back next day. We are firm in our stand and we have given all necessary powers to Air India to handle the situation,” said a senior official at ministry of civil aviation on condition of anonymity.
In an SMS response, Jadhav said he would have to stick to his decision.
However, AIAEA’s Raju said his union members are also standing firm. “We are now holding emergency general body (meetings) across the regions,” he said.
In the midst of the stand-off, though, there was relief for fliers as the airline resumed normal schedule of operations across the entire network with total passenger bookings on the domestic flights crossing 32,000.
“The daily average passenger carriage for May 2010 stands at 29,070, up from an average of 24,350 in May 2009,” Air India said in a statement.
But the deteriorating industrial relations will only slow down the turnaround exercise underway at the ailing flag carrier, said civil aviation experts. Air India currently has outstanding debt of Rs16,000 crore and is running a monthly cash deficit of Rs400 crore.
Experts are also divided on Jadhav’s unprecedented moves as he must salvage an airline that had cumulative losses of Rs8,461.88 crore in fiscal 2007 through 2009, besides bringing all the labour unions together to complete the merger of Air India and the erstwhile Indian Airlines.
“Jadhav was overreacting. This will further worsen the industrial relations,” said an aviation expert, who pointed out that private airlines such as Jet Airways (India) Ltd and Kingfisher Airlines Ltd have already left Air India behind in terms of traffic.
“One cannot issue gag orders unilaterally and chargesheet union leaders,” said George Abraham, general secretary of the Aviation Industry Employees Guild, an Air India staff union representing 8,000 employees, but added that the “worst was over”.
“Now, we are going to meet him on 1 June and tell him that these steps were hard,” he said. “There is always scope for reconciliation.”
Others, though, welcomed the government’s support to ailing national flag carrier.
“For first time, the government has extended its support unequivocally to Air India management, especially to Jadhav, unlike (in the) past. This is a silver lining,” said Saikat Chaudhuri, assistant professor of management at The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, and whose work centres on mergers, acquisition and innovation management.
Chaudhuri said that though there would be some confrontations from unions, ultimately the government has set the groundwork for turnaround of Air India, which would require tough decisions including pruning of staff and other drastic steps.
“Being on the both sides, it is difficult now to draw a parallel between both instances,” said D.S. Mathur, a former Air India managing director who, along with two other executives, had been sacked in 1974 by then chairman J.R.D. Tata for abolishing pilot bases in London and New York.
“Leave it to him (Jadhav) as he is in the hot seat. Let him decide right or wrong. But they (striking employees) have asked for it,” he said.