Air India set to slash number of unions to 5

Written by Rhik Kundu | Mumbai | Updated: Aug 5 2014, 22:25pm hrs
Air India unionUnder the proposal, Air India is set to have two unions - one each for pilots and other workers like cabin crew and ticketing staff. (AP)
The top management of India's flag carrier Air India has cleared a proposal to rationalize the number of employees' unions in the company to five, from 13 unions before the 2007 merger with erstwhile Indian Airlines, a senior Air India 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 is set to have two unions - one each for pilots and other workers like cabin crew and ticketing staff. Air India Engineering Services Limited (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 Limited (AIATSL) has been allocated a single union by the management, this official said on condition of anonymity.

The proposal has been cleared by the management and the process to make these unions 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 that the company was holding discussions with employees on modalities of the proposal like the eligibility criteria for 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 13 recognised and unrecognized unions which include 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).

Before the merger of Indian Airlines with Air India in 2007, there were 7 recognized unions in Air India and about 6 in erstwhile Indian Airlines, said a member of the Air India Engineers Assosiation, on condition of anonymity.

After the merger, the airline recognized only 5 unions while the rest were not recognized since many of these unions were splinter groups,the official said.

A four-member committee constituted by the airline's board of directors in December 2013 to chalk out a plan for cutting down on the number of recognized unions in the airline had earlier submitted two set 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 criticized 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 that they are yet to hear from the management on this.

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 finalizing on the unions, said a member of the Indian Commercial Pilots Association. He declined to be identified. If this is not done, the resultant pilots' union will have several factions, each of whom would want their issues to be addressed first.

Another Air India pilot that FE had spoken to earlier 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, leaves and salaries of pilots, which follow different structures for Air India and the erstwhile Indian Airlines.

Air Indias management doesn't subscribe to this view. Another senior official of Air India, who declined to be named, had earlier told FE that the airline's management had been looking for unions where the respective leaders are chosen on the basis of elected majority and would serve the interest of all employees.

GM Siddeshwara, minister of state for civil aviation recently said in Parliament that out of the 226 merger-related issues on which action was initiated (including pay and seniority structures), 204 have been addressed. Some policies like 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 the permanent staff, the carrier has around 7000 contract workers.