Air India employees skeptical yet keen as Tata Group to takeover today

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Image Credit: Suneesh Kalarickal

The Indian government is likely to hand over Air India to the Tata Group on January 27, nearly 69 years after it was taken from the conglomerate, officials said on Wednesday. With the due date just a day away, sentiments amongst the employees of the airlines range from skepticism to eagerness ahead for the takeover.

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The government had on October 8 last year sold Air India to Talace Private Limited – a subsidiary of the Tata Group’s holding company – for Rs 18,000 crore following a competitive bidding process.

While some of the airline’s pilots have written to the management seeking corrections to deductions in their arrears and payment of the pending arrears, employees involved in the administration side of Air India are looking forward to operations getting more streamlined going forward.

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Pilots working for the airlines earlier this week in a letter asked the airline’s management to rectify multiple deductions and recoveries that have been projected in the arrears statement of many pilots.

“The government in a rush to complete the handover process to the Tata group cannot cut corners. It is very disappointing how the airlines’ management is not putting its employees in the forefront of this transfer process,” a pilot Moneycontrol spoke to said.

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The pilot union have also said they should have been intimated about reasons rather than simply deducting their money.

“The data on which the recovery is based has not been disclosed. This proves the ill intent of the management on the eve of handover. This recovery exercise is entirely illegal, and we demand that this anomaly is rectified and the amount due is repaid with immediate effect,” the pilots said in their letter.

“Should the issue not be settled in a timely manner, then we would have no option but to seek legal recourse. This would cause an unnecessary burden on the new buyer post-handover,” the letter read.

However, most pilots are looking forward to the new regime taking over the management of Air India, as they expect timely payments from the new owners and a simplification of schedules and other practises of Air India.

“For the last few years, most pilots have faced salary delays and deductions from time to time, which has not been the case with most of our colleagues working for private airlines. We are hopeful such streamlined practices are implemented at Air India as well under the new owners,” another pilot said on the condition of anonymity.

Furthermore, the airline’s two unions, Air India Employees’ Union (AIEU) and All India Cabin Crew Association (AICCA) has also written to Air India’s management criticizing a new order by the airline to inspect cabin staff members’ grooming and measure their body mass index (BMI) at airports.

According to the unions, non-medical grooming associates doing BMI checks at airports violate not just DGCA standards but also established service conditions and court rulings.

“We must state that we do not oppose to BMI checks, which crew have been subjected to for more than 15 years; nevertheless, the same must be administered by medical professionals, in the privacy of the Air India clinic, as has been the case previously,” the unions said in a statement earlier this week.

The AICCA has also threatened to seek legal recourse if the said requirement on BMI/weight checks by grooming associates is not withdrawn.

The upcoming two days are also expected to be quite hectic for the employees of Air India, especially those involved in the administration side of operations, multiple people Moneycontrol spoke to said.

Not only will work be done on closing Air India’s balance sheets, after the Tata Group comes back with necessary changes and corrections after their review of the airline’s balance sheet, but contracts for properties of Air India that will be used by the Tata Group for now, along with new contracts for the employees of Air India and a few more formalities are pending to be completed in the next couple of days, senior officials from the airlines said.

“Air India’s closing balance sheet as of January 20 has already been handed over to the Tata group for review and any changes have to be made by Wednesday,” another official from Air India said.

Additionally, contracts of Air India, which are currently liable to be paid by the government of India, from various government departments and ministries, lessors of air India and other partners of the airlines will also be transferred to the Tata Group, a third official said.

Tata Sons had won the bid for the state-run carrier in October, it was settled that the handover of the company would be finished by December 2021.

However, pending approvals and unresolved dues of the debt-ridden airline posed hindrances to the process, delaying the culmination of the transfer by a month.

Come January 27, when Air India is transferred to the Tatas, the national carrier would have burnt a hole of roughly Rs 1,57,339 crore in the government’s pocket over the past 10 years, according to valuation experts.

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