Leave Without Pay scheme akin to illegal lay-off: Air India trade unions

Trade unions of national carrier Air India on Monday termed the airline’s new ‘leave without pay’ scheme as akin to illegal lay-off

Air India flights
Air India flights


Trade unions of national carrier Air India on Monday termed the airline's new ‘leave without pay' scheme as akin to illegal lay-off.

Accordingly, the Joint Action Forum of Air India Unions strongly opposed the new scheme in a letter to Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri.

"We are indeed shocked that the management of Air India could prepare and formulate a scheme for compulsorily sending workers on leave without pay, which is akin to an illegal lay-off under the garb of leave without pay, when ironically the redundancy actually lies in the upper echelons of the management and not with the humble workers of Air India, who have slogged to make the airline the treasure it is," the letter said.

"It must be noted that out of the 11,000 permanent employees, our management occupies almost 25 per cent as 'Executive Cadre', with little or no accountability. Solely among the 'Elite Management Cadre', we have 121 top officers ranking from DGMS, GMs, EDs to Functional Directors, most of whom are either performing duplicate job functions or are indeed redundant, and not to mention the retired relics serving as consultants and also the CEOs of various subsidiary companies," it added.

As per the letter, which has been reviewed by IANS, the forum said that though "we do not wish, the redundancy or compulsory leave without pay scheme, if any at all, has to apply only to these executives, more so, when they do not even have protection of labour laws or Supreme Court orders".

Besides, the forum said that no meeting or negotiation have been held with any of the trade unions, barring that of the pilots, over these issues.

"We once again request you to intervene and halt this abominable compulsory leave scheme and grant us a meeting with your good self to discuss the way ahead for all of us together," the letter said.

The letter also pointed out the issue of wage cuts.

"We must draw your attention that no unions have been called, and that these wage cuts have drawn the most blood from the lowest levels of the Corona warriors of our Vande Bharat Mission'," the letter said.

"Strangely, the topmost 'Corporate Executive cadre and the back room Generals' have saved themselves from the axe of wage cuts by sacrificing a piffling of a few grand, while the frontline warriors of flying cabin crew, engineers, ground staff etc. have borne the biggest brunt head on," it added.

Last week, the airline cited challenging financial situation for implementing the LWP scheme.

"The scheme primarily enables employees to avail the benefits of proceeding on leave without pay on a voluntary basis. The LWP scheme has been introduced for grant of leave without pay and allowances for permanent employees for a period of six months or two years, which is extendable up to 5 years," an Air India statement said.

"Air India had brought out similar scheme earlier... Several hundred employees have, in the past, availed the LWP scheme," it added.

As per the airline's statement, in the wake of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, there may be employees who are unable to attend their office duties in person on account of personal reasons.

"The LWP scheme enables employees to take a break from their office responsibility for a defined period of time with the approval of the management, while retaining their employment with the company," the statement said, adding: "They will continue to avail facilities such as passage, medical and housing at specified rates."

Consequently, the LWP scheme provides the opportunity to employees to take up alternative employment with the approval of the management during the period of the said leave, the airline said.

"The only addition in this scheme as compared to the earlier LWP scheme is that the management can pass an order requiring the employees to go on leave for a period of six months or two years (extendable up to 5 years) compulsorily, taking into consideration suitability, efficiency, competence, quality of performance, health, non-availability of employee and redundancy," the statement said.

Air India said that this provision has been introduced for use "very sparingly", with a view to ensure that the overall efficiency of the organisation improves.

The said provision authorises the CMD to pass an order on behalf and in the name of the company whereby an employee could be sent on leave for six months or for a period of two years extendable up to five years.

As per Air India's PIM document, as on November 1, 2019, the airline on a standalone basis (without subsidiaries) had around 14,000 employees, including fixed term contractual staff.

The development comes as the Centre has re-initiated the airline's divestment plan with new norms.

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