In a bid to drastically cut down the number of recognised unions in the airline to two from the current 15, Air India has appointed a four-member committee headed by former labour secretary Krishna Mohan Sahni to hold fresh elections by July this year.
Besides Sahni, other members of the committee include Raja Sridhar, executive board member, International Transport Workers’ Federation, retired chief labour commissioner S K Mukhopadhya and Ajit Nigam (advisor, HR, Ircon International).
A senior executive in Air India said, “We are looking at rationalising the number of unions to facilitate efficient decision-making during negotiations between union representatives and the management. The panel has been tasked to determine which unions will be eligible to contest the elections; mark out the constituencies and finalise the procedures.” Once the modalities are in place, elections would be held for 21,000 employees, latest by July this year.
Post elections, there would be one union for pilots and a second one for all other employees. The airline’s two subsidiaries — Air India Engineering Services Limited (AIESL) for maintenance repair and overhaul and Air India Air Transport Services Limited (AIATSL) for ground handling — would have between them another three unions.
“As per the electoral norms decided upon, any union which gets more than 50 per cent of the votes would be recognised by the management. If, however, a union ends up with 35 per cent of the votes, there could be one major and one minor union. So, theoretically, there is a chance that the mainline airline body and AIESL can have four instead of two unions each. But for all practical purposes, the intention is to have five recognised unions between Air India and its two subsidiaries,” added the executive.
This move of rationalising the number of unions draws parallel to a move by the Indian Railways (IR) earlier in 2007, which brought down the number of unions to 2 from 34.
“Fewer unions also means that they would have higher bargaining power,” said Amber Dubey, partner and head of aviation at global consultancy KPMG.