New Delhi: After more than 45 days of hectic negotiations since the cabinet cleared the merger of state-owned carriers Air India and Indian, the largest employees union at Indian, the Air Corporation’s Employees Union (ACEU), said it will hold demonstrations and public meetings at the Delhi airport on Monday to protest against the delay in non-settlement of their pending arrears.
Eight of the unions and associations at Indian had formed a joint action committee to hold discussions with the civil aviation ministry and the Indian airlines management on resolution of pending issues, including career progression, wage revision and payment of arrears before the merger process begins.
Despite the ongoing talks, which have run late into the night, between the joint action committee and Indian management, both sides have reached a stalemate on the issue of settling arrears.
“We are not going to sign an agreement without the arrears,” insisted J.K. Badola, general secretary of the 13,000-strong union, adding that the demonstration will however, be limited to an hour. He said a consensus has been reached on most other issues between the employees and the management, except arrears. The unions are not planning to strike, he said.
For Indian, the 10 year pending arrears will work out to about Rs350 crore, according to some estimates, for the ACEU alone. Meanwhile, the civil aviation ministry has been asking them to accept the arrears starting 2006. “They have not said that in so many words,” said an Indian official who’s part of the deliberations but did not wished to be named. “But that is what they mean. We don’t have any ready solutions. And no mandate.”
Indian and Air India together have a workforce of over 30,000, of which Indian has about 18,000 employees. Unions cite Air India as an example where employees have been already been paid their 10-year arrears earlier this year. “The arrears have enabled many of the employees to repay loans taken for the purpose of housing and, in general, for improvement in the quality of life,” wrote Air India’s chairman and managing director V. Thulasidas last month, noting that “the company has stretched itself to its financial limits in order to make these payments.”
Managing the two work forces is expected to be the major challenge for the merging airline. Hectic lobbying for the top posts at the Air India-Indian combine is already on at the ministry, according to senior ministry officials. Civil aviation minister Praful Patel is likely to announce a new brand entity and the name of the new chairman and managing director to spearhead the integration of the merged entity in the coming week.
An Indian spokesperson said they have been informed that it will be a “peaceful demonstration” where no work will be affected by the demonstration.