Air India okays cutting number of unions to 5

Written by Rhik Kundu | Mumbai | Updated: Aug 2 2014, 06:22am hrs
The top management of Air India has cleared a proposal to rationalise the number of employees unions in the company to five from 15, a senior airline official told FE.

The move is expected to bring in efficiencies with respect to addressing human resource-related issues within

the airline and facilitate quicker decision-making.

Under the proposal, Air India will have two unions first for pilots and second for other workers, such as cabin crew and ticketing staff. Air India Engineering Services (AIESL), a subsidiary of Air India, will be allowed to have two unions and the airline's ground handling unit, Air India Air Transport Services(AIATSL), has been allocated a single union by the management, the official said on the condition of anonymity.

The proposal has been cleared by the management and the process to make these uniond recognised by the company is on, the official said.

However, several human resources-related issues that date back to the merger of the erstwhile Indian Airlines with Air India in 2007 need to be addressed before the creation of the new unions, the official added. He said the company was holding discussions with employees on modalities such as the eligibility criteria for the recognition of existing unions. Merging some entities to create a larger union, or establishing a new association, is also a possibility.

At present, Air India has about 15 recognised and unrecognised unions including employees unions of Air Indias wide-bodied aircraft operations (that mostly fly internationally) and the erstwhile Indian Airlines narrow-bodied aircraft operations (that flew domestically).

Indian Airlines was merged with Air India in 2007.

A four-member committee constituted by the airline's board of directors in December 2013 to chalk out a plan for cutting down the number of recognised unions had earlier submitted two sets of recommendations.

One of the suggestions was to have three unions one each for Air India, AIESL, and AIATSL. The second suggestion, which has finally been accepted, was to have the five unions as described above.

A certain section of the senior management favoured a third alternative to have just two unions one for pilots and another for the rest of the employees. This was severely criticised by the existing union.

The management decided to have a separate union for pilots since there are several practical difficulties if pilots and other workmen were to be part of one group, the senior Air India official said.

The existing unions at Air India haven't yet been informed about the management's decision. FE spoke to members of two of these unions, who said they were yet to hear from the management.

It's good news if the management is considering to bring pilots under one union, but then they should have ideally sorted out the unresolved issues that came up due to the merger like service structure, salary structure and seniority issues before finalising on the unions, said a member of the Indian Commercial Pilots Association. He declined to be identified. If this is not done, the resultant pilot union will have several factions, each of whom would want their issues to be addressed first.

Another Air India pilot FE had spoken to said that though the merger of Air India and Indian Airlines has been completed on paper, their employees continued to function as separate entities. The management needs to address issues concerning transport, finances, leave and salaries of pilots, which follow different structures for Air India and the erstwhile Indian Airlines.

The Air India management doesn't subscribe to this view. Another senior official at the airline, who declined to be named, had told FE that the management had been looking for unions where leaders were chosen on the basis of elected majority and serve the interest of all employees. GM Siddeshwara, minister of state for civil aviation, recently said in Parliament that of the 226 merger-related issues on which action was initiated (including pay and seniority), 204 have been addressed. Some policies, such as revised pay and allowances for different sets of workers, are yet to be implemented pending litigation.

Air Indias total staff strength stood at 12,529 as on June 30. AIESL had 5,996 and AIATSL had 4,095 employees. Apart from permanent staff, the carrier has around 7,000 contract workers.