On July 14, the management of the Public Sector Air India announced that its employees will be asked to go on Leave without Pay for a period that could be extended up to five years.
According to an order of the management said, “This Scheme (LWP) is being introduced for grant of leave without pay and allowances for permanent employees, for a period of six months (extendable upto 5 years) or for a period of two years (extendable upto 5 years) at the discretion of the Management.” It further authorises the CMD to pass an order on behalf of and in the name of the Company” whereby an employee would be sent on this “leave, “depending upon…suitability, efficiency, competence, quality of performance, health of the employee, instance of non-availability of the employee for duty in the past, as a result of ill health or otherwise and redundancy.”
According to news reports, departmental heads at headquarters and regional directors of the different regions must assess each individual employee on the above mentioned factors and identity those who should be ordered to go on leave without pay.
The Air India management has constituted a committee to identify what it calls “redundant manpower”. “Names of such employees need to be forwarded to the General Manager (Personnel) in headquarters for obtaining necessary approval of CMD,” the order added. Those who want to “voluntarily” take up the scheme should notify their department heads by August 15.
Calling this “leave” is turning truth on its head. There is nothing voluntary about this leave without pay. It is being enforced. It is clear that the management plans to carry out massive retrenchment of the permanent workforce of Air India through this scheme. It must be noted that Air India, including its subsidiaries, has about 11,000 permanent employees on its payroll. In addition, Air India employs over 4,200 contract workers.
The notice for Leave without Pay says amongst other things:
“During the period of leave without pay, employees will not be paid any basic, dearness allowance or other benefits like pension, gratuity, provident fund, increment. They shall also lose their seniority with reference to juniors.” Employees staying at staff quarters will also have to vacate the same or rent it back from the airline at the prevailing market price.
During the period of Leave without Pay, employees are not permitted to take up another alternative job without the permission of the company.
The employees of Air India are extremely agitated by this thoroughly anti worker move of the management, which has obviously been carried out at the instance of the Central government.
Pilots and cabin crew have expressed their apprehension that they are likely to be targeted.
Earlier, on July 11, Air India summarily terminated 200 Cabin Crew who were on contract. Air India had about 4000 Cabin Crew and 1800 pilots on its rolls till April 2020.
The Central government has been trying to sell Air India to private bidders for a long time. The biggest thorn in its privatization plans has been the opposition of pilots, cabin crew and other employees of the company. The government and Air India management are using the Covid 19 Pandemic to carry out savage attacks on workers and their rights. Air India employees are resisting these attacks.
On July 12, workers of Celebi Airport Services India organised a demonstration outside Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi under the banner of the Celebi Employees Union. They were protesting against the retrenchement of 708 workers by the company last month.
Ground handling operations at Delhi Airport have been outsourced to this company since 2010. The company is owned by the Turkey based Celebi Aviation Holding. Citing steep fall in business due to the Covid Pandemic, the company, threw out 708 out of its 1,819 workers. On June 12, Celebi’s management informed the workers of their retrenchment.
The protestors pointed out that the management has been attacking the union and its leadership for the past three years, in order to break the union. Now, it has used the opportunity provided by Covid -19 pandemic to carry out massive retrenchment, target the members of the union and destroy the union.
Apart from a few managerial staff, the vast majority of those retrenched are workers whose tasks included cleaning the aircraft, loading and unloading luggage of passengers and providing them with assistance such as wheelchairs, etc. The majority of retrenched workers are members of the Celebi Employees Union.
According to the vice president of the Union, Gulshan, around 20 union members were already under suspension since May 2010. “The company had falsely accused them of misbehavior. The real reason was they were active members of the union. On June 12, they were also informed, along with others, that they were dismissed.” “They were fired without completing the inquiry on the charges over which they were suspended,” he pointed out.
Leaders of the union have been systematically targeted for suspension, transfers and dismissal over the past few years, for organizing the workers to raise their grievances and fight for their rights.
For example, when the leaders of the union refused to accept transfer orders to Hyderabad in May 2019, the management barred them from entering the workplace and registering for daily duties. On learning that their leaders were being targeted, around 20 workers gathered in protest, refusing to work until their leaders were allowed entry by the company. The management suspended all those 20 workers right then. They too were among those issued retrenchment notices on June 12.
The email from the management to the workers justifying retrenchment said amongst other things: “Presently there is a steep decline in our business to the extent of 83% and this crisis is here to stay for longer duration. The requirement of workforce has contracted due to considerable recession in trade and this has compelled the management to discharge surplus workmen.” “Since you are also one of the junior most workmen.. your services are hereby retrenched with immediate effect”.
The management of Celebi Airport Services is using the Covid pandemic and the present temporary fall in business to target the militant workers and destroy their union. The workers are completely justified in opposing this attack on their livelihood and rights.
Nurses of the Hakeem Abdul Hameed Centenary Hospital (HAHC) in New Delhi are agitated because 84 nurses of that hospital have been issued termination orders on July 11, without any prior notice and without citing any reason. The nurses have been protesting for the past 15 days, against the utter neglect of the Covid-19 ward and the callous attitude of the hospital authorities towards the doctors, nurses and medical staff. They have been regularly holding protest demonstrations and raising slogans in support of their demands in front of the hospital gate. They fear that they are being targeted and persecuted because of their protest against the authorities.
On June 23, the agitating nurses had written a letter to the hospital management highlighting the poor working conditions of the nurses and the violation of precautions and safety measures necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
In the letter, the nurses of HAHC had complained that the hospital management was denying them a COVID-19 test and adequate quarantine facilities after completing a COVID-19 duty. After every 7 days of duty in a COVID ward they are entitled to get 7 days quarantine facility in the hospital since they cannot go back home, for risk of infecting other family members. However, the nurses have pointed out that in their hostel, nurses who are working in the general ward are being compelled to live with nurses who are working in the COVID ward. This is in gross violation of the Covid-19 protocol and poses grave risks to the health of the nurses.
The nurses had also complained that they were not being provided with proper PPE and N95 masks. They were being given 3M pollution masks instead of N95 masks and the PPE was of inferior quality that exposed the nurses to infection. The nurses had highlighted the lack of proper ‘donning and doffing’ space where they could safely put on or discard their PPE suits. They had pointed out that as a result of this neglect by the hospital authorities, 7-8 nurses at the hospital have tested positive in the past four months since the hospital started a 219-bed COVID ward. They had also requested the hospital management to provide a drinking water dispenser in the COVID ward, so that they do not have to use the drinking water dispensers in the common areas of the hospital or have to buy their own drinking water bottles every day.
The 84 nurses at HAHC work on a yearly contract, which is expected to be renewed annually. These were to be renewed before July 10, 2020. However, the management did not renew the contracts this year, citing problems due to the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown. On July 11, the nurses received a Whatsapp message while they were on duty, informing them of their termination. The message they received on their mobile phones bluntly states: “The Competent Authority has approved the extension in the contractual appointment for all 84 nurses…till July 10, 2020 only. All these nurses therefore stand relieved from July 11, 2020”.
The nurses were not given the mandatory one month’s notice that the hospital authorities are required to give before termination of any contractual appointment. As a result, the nurses are now without a job. The hospital management is using the renewal of their job contracts as a Damocles’ sword over their heads, to intimidate them and force them to give up their agitation for these entirely just demands.
According to the latest news reports, as a result of the persistent agitation by the nurses of HAHC, they have now been provided drinking water facilities in the COVID ward. The management has also been forced to begin the process of issuing fresh contracts to the nurses.