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Air India veterans feel unwelcome in airline under Tata group

Older employees of Air India feel that the new management is focused on replacing them with new hires.

June 29, 2022 / 07:36 PM IST

Several senior employees of Air India including pilots, cabin crew, ground-handling staff, engineering crew and even employees involved on the administration side are starting to feel out of place at the airline, after having worked there for decades.

“Many employees were afraid that the Tata group would look to get rid of the older workforce and replace them with new professionals and the same looks to be coming true,” a senior cabin crew of Air India told Moneycontrol on condition of anonymity.

He added that the Tatas’ announcement of a new voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) coupled with the airline actively looking at fresh hires by holding an employment drive across the country has also left older employees of the airline fearful for their jobs.

The Tata group had taken over the management of Air India on January 27 and as part of the Rs 2,700-crore deal the government has ensured that Tata Sons will have to retain all employees of the airline for one year as part of the share purchase agreement. Furthermore, as part of the deal, the Tatas also had the option of offering VRS if they were looking to retrench employees after one year.

Air India announced a VRS in June for permanent employees who have completed 55 years of age or 20 years of continuous service with the airline. As part of the new VRS for some cabin crew, clerical and unskilled staffers, the VRS eligibility age has been relaxed from 55 years to 40 years.

The move was expected to help the airline let go of about 3,000 employees.

Air India has a total of 12,085 employees of which 8,084 are permanent and 4,001 are contractual. Air India Express, its low-cost international arm, has 1,434 employees. Around 5,000 of Air India’s employees are set for retirement in the next five years.

An official working at Air India’s head office in New Delhi also said the new management has faced backlash from Air India employees over a number of issues including the government evicting them from staff accommodation in Delhi and Mumbai as well as pay cuts.

“Several employees are unhappy about the reduction in allowances that have been implemented since the takeover by the Tatas,” the official said. He added that some employees had even approached the Delhi High Court.

In February, the court dismissed petitions by the Executive Pilots Association and All India Aircraft Engineers Association challenging the reduction in allowances.

The new Air India management’s lack of involvement in the airline’s staff accommodation issue in Mumbai and Delhi has also emerged as a major cause of concern for older Air India employees.

“The new management had said that it will help us (Air India employees) find alternative accommodation, but such steps have not been taken till now,” said a senior engineer who has been living in the airline’s staff colony in Delhi’s Vasant Vihar.

He added that with the Rs 20,000 or so he gets as house rent allowance, it is nearly impossible to find an apartment in Delhi for his family of five. His new apartment in Noida, the Delhi suburb in Uttar Pradesh, costs him Rs 28,000, which takes a bite out of his monthly budget, he said.

Similarly, multiple members of Air India’s ground-handling staff also told Moneycontrol that the company’s new management has not been actively involved in the housing concerns of its employees.

Air India has been at loggerheads with employees residing in company accommodation in Mumbai and Delhi for months now. Air India’s employees have until July 26 to vacate their staff quarters both in Delhi and Mumbai.

In May, the central government had asked Air India to remind its workers residing in Delhi’s Vasant Vihar and Mumbai’s Kalina areas to vacate the premises by that date.

The decision had been taken even before Air India’s sale to the Tatas when the government decided that Air India’s land and colonies in these places would have to be vacated within six months of the privatisation process being completed.

Earlier this week, the airline's employees approached the Bombay High Court to challenge the decision.

Similarly, another senior cabin crew of Air India said that the new Air India management’s decision to inspect cabin staff members’ grooming and measure their body mass index (BMI) at airports has come across as an indication that the airline might look to replace certain employees.

She added that in some instances senior cabin crew members were also being assigned fewer flying hours by the new management.

Some senior pilots working with Air India have also raised concerns with the new management about shifting their base of operations.

“We hear from several sources that the company plans to transfer pilots from their original bases to cut down operational costs. While we understand that cost reduction is vital to the success of our airline, we also believe that the ill effects of this initiative have not been fully taken into consideration,” the Air India pilot unions had said in a letter sent to the Air India chairman in June.

The letter also highlighted the pay cut in place for the last two years and said that if the airline decides to go ahead with these transfers, most of the crew would be forced to undertake the additional financial burden of procuring and maintaining another house at the new base.

Yaruqhullah Khan