There is nothing new in Air India (AI) hitting an air pocket. At various points in its history since 1953, engineers, pilots, ground and support staff have struck work with near-unfailing regularity. So it was hardly surprising that 250-odd pilots refused to work from 26 September. What is surprising is the new-found will and resolve of its management.
The management, of course, has little choice. With accumulated losses of up to Rs7,200 crore and borrowings to the tune of Rs15,241 crore, there is little else that can be done. Powerful lobbies, such as that of the pilots, have to be faced, or else AI will certainly go into a fatal tailspin. In such situations, “cornered solutions” of the kind being envisaged by AI managing director Arvind Jadhav not only have human relations legitimacy but also sound business logic.
Yet, even at this critical hour, the government, the owner of AI, is not backing the management. Within hours of the rumours of a lockout on Monday, civil aviation secretary M.M. Nambiar was quoted by The Times of India as saying that lockout was not an option and that passengers could not be allowed to suffer. The secretary is obviously ignorant. If the interest of passengers, not only now, but later as well, is a concern, then the government should back the AI management in disciplining pilots. For if this is not done, other sections of employees will be emboldened to strike work. The work culture at AI has plumbed such depths that such an occurrence is a very real possibility.
AI’s long-run viability, if that is possible in the condition that it finds itself, requires a dose of iron will on part of the government and the management. Foremost among all other measures, it requires amendments to existing service contracts of all employees. Work incentives and disincentives need to be spelt out clearly. For example, a model contract should specify the steps that would kick in automatically if an employee joins a strike. Warning, suspension and dismissal, all to follow within specified time frame, preferably not more than a few days. This might sound draconian. But in a government-spoilt work environment, there is room for little else. If implemented, this will have a salutary effect on the work performance of employees. That would be the first step in AI’s revival.
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