When Air India’s new chairman, Rohit Nandan, takes his first meeting tomorrow with the unions, he is set to face demands about the timely payment of wages, besides restoration of cancelled routes and better route planning to improve the government carrier’s load factors.
All the same, the employees have sensed positivity after getting a boss a fortnight ago, leading them to tone down their earlier confrontationist mood. “We understand that the new chairman does not have a magic wand,” says an Air India employee. “For the last few months, the airline employees have not been receiving salaries on time. This has affected the morale. But this month we received it twice. First on August 1 and again last Saturday (August 20), we received another tranche.”
The AI staff is also demanding that airline restore some of the cancelled flights and improve its route planning. As a member of the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) says, “Air India has clubbed certain flights because it was unable to pay oil companies for the aviation fuel. Since that issue has been sorted, the airline should restore the cancelled flights. The airline merged its Mumbai-Abu Dhabi and Mumbai-Muscat flights. This upset the passengers, as those travelling from Muscat have to travel two extra hours via Abu Dhabi.”
The sense of relief, though, is palpable, although this represents just part-disbursement of dues. (Employees have, for the last 2-3 months, not been paid allowances that make upto half or more of they pay package.) The ICPA says employees need to be motivated if the airline has to survive. “Already, 15 pilots have quit the airline this year,” points out one of its representatives. “The management needs to be sensitive to employee concerns.”
Nandan, an IAS officer of the 1982 batch from Uttar Pradesh, took charge as the AI chairman, replacing Arvind Jadhav whose tenure with the airline was marked by worsening financial condition, labour unrest and ego clashes with members of senior management and pilots. The decision to clear employee dues and shunt Jadhav came following protests in the Lok Sabha and intervention of the Prime Minister’s Office.
Nandan, 54, had, in an earlier media interaction, listed improving the airline’s finances and employee morale as his priorities.
Air India has a total debt of Rs 40,000 crore and is unable to promptly clear vendor dues, payment to oil companies and employee salaries. With an annual interest burden of Rs 3,200 crore, it is awaiting the government’s nod to restructure debt.
Jadhav tried to push for a wage-cut, leading to opposition from unions who argue that the employees are not responsible for the airline’s bad financial health.
Source : Business Standard