New Delhi: Even as Air India Ltd chairman Vasudevan Thulasidas headed here from Seattle aboard a new, long-haul Boeing 777-200 LR passenger jet, his soon-to-be-deputy and chairman of Indian Airlines Ltd, Vishwapati Trivedi, together with senior civil aviation ministry officials, was trying to defuse a tense situation on the ground: heads of eight worker unions and associations at the domestic airline want to boycott an induction ceremony planned for the new jet.
The symbolic gesture stems from all of Indian Airline’s worker groups opposing a merger with Air India. Over at Air India itself, all but one union has stayed neutral. The merger is expected to take two years to complete.
The new aircraft together with four other jets, part of the 111 planes ordered by the two airlines in 2005, are to be showcased before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the Air Force Station here on Saturday before being inducted into the carrier’s fleet.
But Trivedi’s meetings have yielded little, at least as of last night. The unions are unhappy that employees were not being taken into confidence on the merger and have formally objected to the ministry of company affairs, which is to hear their complaint on 31 July. This protest has also delayed the completion of merger-related legal formalities. The two airlines were to be merged into a new firm, National Aviation Co of India Ltd or Nacil, which was originally scheduled for 22 July.
Drawing the workers’ ire in particular is a decision that the Indian Airlines brand will cease to exist formally after the merger, with Nacil using just the Air India brand. The Joint Action Committee of Indian Airlines, a group the eight unions and associations formed a few months ago, said in a letter submitted to R.K. Singh, joint secretary, civil aviation ministry, that it did not want the 50-year old brand being killed.
Another issue is whether the Indian Airlines’ unions will be recognized by Nacil and the unions have demanded a written commitment from the ministry that they will not be de-recognized.
The Indian Airlines workers also want a resolution of several pending issues, including settlement of wage arrears for those who have been left out of a June wage settlement; a clearly outlined integration plan for staff, and promotions. All of which, they said, have not been explained.
“It is also shocking that the so-called merger looks more like a takeover by Air India than a merger. To our utter dismay, even before legitimising the proposed merger, the new aircraft purchased by Indian Airlines, have undergone a livery change and repainting incurring huge expenditure,” the unions said in the statement.
The largest of the Indian Airline’s unions Air Corporation’s Employees Union (ACEU) has already resorted to a two-day national strike in June over wage arrears leading to chaos at most airports. The strike was called off after ACEU members were promised arrears. This time, pilots and engineers have joined other unions in opposing the merger. “If we look at the worldwide statistics for airlines, there is a 49% chance that the merger might work, but the majority failed. We want to know what is the exit policy (alternate plan) in case that happens,” demands Rohan Kailasam, president of the Indian Commercial Pilots Association. ACEU is supporting the ICPA and other unions. The civil aviation ministry says the deal is inevitable and unions “have been asked to co-operate and not obstruct the merger,” according to ministry spokesperson.