Seven unions of Air India employees have warned the government of large-scale protests if a proposal from NITI Aayog to privatise the national carrier is approved. In a letter dated June 14, the unions have sought an appointment with the Civil Aviation Minister Gajapathi Raju to discuss their concerns over Air India’s future. The unions have written that they oppose the “arbitrary and unilateral” recommendations of the government’s top policymaking body to privatise Air India and have called it a “spokesperson of the private sector”. “We urge you not to accept the hurried recommendations by the NITI AYOG and not to force the employees of Air India to agitate which will lead to industrial unrest and disharmony,” the letter said. The letter also raises concerns over job losses due to the government’s move, particularly for those who fall in the reserved categories “as the private sector has no obligation to follow the reservation policy”.
The letter further said employees all over India were “agitated and apprehensive” about the issue. There are a total 21,137 employees of Air India, including its subsidiaries. The letter has been written collectively by AI Air Corporate Employees Union, the AI Employees Union, AI Aircraft Engineers’ Association, United Air India Officers’ Association, AI Engineer’s Association, AI Cabin Crew Association and AI Service Engineers’ Association. The letter also alleged that the airline which was built over a period of 64 years was being “demolished within 15 days by the NITI AYOG”. The unions also questioned the justification to privatise the airline because it had a mere 14 percent of the market share.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had last month pitched for Air India’s divestment saying it has a market share of 14 percent whereas its debt is Rs 50,000 crore, following which the Civil Aviation Ministry said it was looking at all possible alternatives to make the airline viable. “The government and the government alone are (sic) responsible for this decline in passenger traffic. No autonomy was granted to the management of Air India to determine to which sectors the Air India should operate its flight,” the letter adds.
Employees also demand that the offer of waiving Air India’s debt to enable a private player to buy the debt-ridden carrier be made to Air India to help it in its turnaround plans. The Cabinet is expected to take a call on privatising Air India soon. The CBI has also registered three FIRs and a preliminary enquiry (PE)on several decisions made by the erstwhile UPA government with regard to Air India.