New Delhi: The corporate culture that comes with a new owner will encourage merit and help Air India compete globally, chairman Ashwani Lohani wrote to employees, assuring them that there is no cause for scepticism.
The government has decided to privatize the debt-ridden airline that has struggled to compete with aggressive rivals despite prolonged financial support.
“Ownership changes that we expect at Air India would also lead to a change in the working environment and the work culture. The complexities of working in a PSU (public sector unit) environment would get replaced by a corporate culture, a culture in which merit would get a better deal," Lohani wrote in a letter on Tuesday.
The chairman seemed to hint that only those not working hard might be pulled up.
“This should enable a full realization of the inherent potential of your airline besides creating an environment that would indeed be conducive for all of us who are used to working hard with commitment and integrity," the letter read, a copy of which was seen by Mint.
“The wonderful team of air Indians, especially the licensed personnel should therefore have nothing to be sceptical about," he said, referring to technical staff like pilots and engineers.
He said during the process of disinvestment, the government and airline management “would like to safeguard your genuine and valid interests and ensure that suitable measures to this effect are put in place".
The letter came on a day Air India’s employees union Air Corporation Employees’ Union (ACEU) staged a protest against the disinvestment of the national carrier at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi.
“ACEU appeals to the government of India not to go for privatization and disinvestment of Air India," J.B. Kadian, general secretary of ACEU, said in a Tuesday statement adding, “We are always ready to turn around Air India."
The ACEU represents Air India’s non-technical staff and has nearly 8,000 of the airline’s total 21,137 employees as members.
The pilots have another union called the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA).
Air India’s purchase of 111 aircraft valued at some $11 billion and working capital loans have pushed up its debt from Rs5,000 crore to Rs50,000 crore in the last 10 years. In 2011, when the airline reached a point that it could not pay salaries on time, the government agreed to provide it about Rs30,000 crore in equity funding, spread over a decade.
ACEU members displayed placards seeking more equity infusion and a debt waiver.
“Unless a solution is found to this huge debt, survival in the long run is almost impossible and the proposal to consider disinvestment is a step in this direction. It is the firm conviction of the government that the process of disinvestment is only meant to make Air India a much stronger world-class airline capable of competing with others successfully," Lohani said in the same communication.