By Vidyadhar Date, Senior Journalist and Convenor, Amchi Mumbai Amchi BEST
Following the government’s recent decision to sell the public sector Air India to Tatas, various trade unions of Air India did a lot of soul searching yesterday and decided that they must learn from the farmers’ firm agitation. They did this during a webinar organized by the All India Forum Against Privatisation and suggested that they should try to meet physically soon to discuss various issues. One of the major problems is that each employee stands to lose lakhs of rupees because of faulty investment of provident fund in controversial companies like Dewan Housing, ILFS, etc. which have incurred heavy losses.
We ought to have taken a hardline approach, said K. V. J. Rao, General Secretary of the Cabin Crew Association. He said on his part he had launched a number of fights, challenged the flight safety violations of the company and had filed criminal complaints against the management on various issues, with the result that two directors of Air India will appear in court on October 26. For this his services had been terminated but we must fight, stand up. If one employee loses a job, even if all the employees collect just Rs. 100 per month in his or her support, the person’s problems can be solved. Only through hardline approach, the management will yield. He said if employees show solidarity, they have nothing to fear from privatization. The airline sector is labour intensive, so it cannot afford to antagonize workers too much.
Mr. S.N. Bhatt, president of the Air India Aircraft Engineers’ Association, said the government had made bewakoof of us all through privatization; that is the price we have to pay for not being militant.
Various leaders strongly criticized several measures taken by the government and the Air India management which resulted in heavy losses, like handing over profitable routes to private sector airlines and needlessly buying more aircraft than were needed.
Mr. Ashok Rao, Chief Patron of the National Confederation of Officers Association, said the most dangerous aspect was that the government was selling entire sectors, not just individual undertakings. They are now targeting the power sector. He criticized the Air India management for a series of its failures; it had sold prime hotels at cheap rates; Centaur near the Mumbai airport had been sold so cheap, that the buyer quickly resold it at a huge profit.
The civil aviation ministry behaved as if it was not aware of what was going on. A former secretary of the ministry asked unbelievably how the ministry was to know if things were not brought to its attention. The very sovereignty of the nation was now under attack, he said.
Mr. J.B. Kadian, General Secretary of the Air Corporation Employees Union, claimed that his was the oldest and biggest union in Air India. He said the union faced a number of problems, its offices were locked and many union workers were sacked.
He said Air India had the best in-house repair and service facility in the world but the work of servicing aircraft was got done outside at heavy expense.
He said there was now some uncertainty about working conditions. At present retired employees get a lot of facilities including medical. What will happen to them now, besides there are various subsidiary companies of Air India, what happens to them? He and other union leaders felt some of the best real estate of Air India will now fall into the hands of Adani group.
Mr. R.A.B. Mani, a respected veteran of the airline unions, said crores of rupees had been spent on redesigning the symbol for Air India and a foreign company had been hired even for the privatization modalities.
Air India did a great job in bringing back Indian nationals and others during Covid times from other countries, pilots did that at risk to their lives. The positive contribution of Air India was being ignored. He said trustees from among workers could not escape blame in the provident fund scam.
Mathew of the All India Forum Against Privatisation, Ashok of Kamgar Ekta Committee and Girish Bhave of the Forum said unions in all public undertakings need to be vigilant in view of the attacks by the government. The Forum has taken the initiative to start a dialogue among various unions and has brought together fifty five federations and unions from ten sectors.