Workers struggle for their rights

Air India Workers protest against compulsory Leave Without Pay

As has been reported in Mazdoor Ekta Lehar, the Air India Management had issued a notice on July 14th that compulsory Leave without Pay (LWP) from six months to two years, extendable up to 5 years, would be enforced on the employees of the Airlines. It also identified seven criteria based on which employees would be targeted to be sent on LWP.

On the 20th of July 2020, three unions representing Air India employees, namely, Aviation Industry Employees Guild, All India Service Engineers Association and Air India Aircraft Engineers Association wrote to the Chairman and Managing Director, Air India challenging the decision of the management.

In their letter, the workers pointed out that the decision of the management was taken unilaterally without any discussion with the unions representing the various categories of employees.

The Unions have pointed out that the notice issued by the Air India management to the employees declaring that the CMD of Air India can pass an Order requiring an employee to go on leave compulsorily is illegal. Such a provision is not supported by any enactment or law relating to the employees of Air India.

In their letter, the unions have pointed out that the notice is against the provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act 1947, besides violating various Memoranda of Settlement (MOS) arrived at between the management and the employees of Air India over the years.

The letter said that the action of the management in issuing the notice is also illegal since the wages, allowances, leave with wages etc., which have been fixed under various binding settlements (MOS) are also sought to be altered without giving a Notice of Change u/s 9A of the lndustrial Disputes Act, 1947, with respect to service conditions. It said that the management is well aware that the Bombay High Court had in its order passed in Writ Petition No 1805 of 2013 categorically held that Air lndia is required to give a Notice of Change for effecting any change in the service conditions of their employees.

The letter pointed out that to require an employee to compulsorily proceed on leave especially without wages would be to deprive him of his right to work and earn his livelihood which is akin to depriving him of his very existence i.e. his right to life itself.

The letter also points out that there is no provision nor is there any statute or enactment in lndia which permits furlough, i.e., asking an employee to compulsorily proceed on leave without pay. It says that there is no provision in law which provides for “Redundancy “.

The Unions have warned that if the notice for compulsory Leave Without Pay is not withdrawn immediately, they will challenge the decision of the management and defend their rights.

IndiGo Airlines lays off thousands of employees

IndiGo Airlines, India’s largest private airline, announced on July 20 that it would be laying off 2,700 workers, reducing its workforce by 10%. The airline company cited loss of revenue due to Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown as the reason for this. The employee strength of IndiGo at the time the decision was announced was about 27,000.

Announcing this decision, the CEO of Indigo Airlines said in a statement that the airlines also had to undertake a number of measures such as pay cuts, leave without pay, and various other costs. “But unfortunately, these cost savings are clearly not enough to offset the decline in revenues”. Therefore the company was resorting to massive layoffs.

Senior employees at IndiGo are reported to have told the media that the company has already begun retrenching its cabin crew and ground staff. Several pilots and managerial-level workers are also likely to be laid off.

Indigo is the largest airline in India. The developments in Indigo point to the massive attacks that workers of the airline industry are facing and will face in the coming months.

Just two days before Indigo’s announcement, the state-owned national carrier Air India issued a notice for a Compulsory Leave Without Pay (LWP) scheme for its employees ranging from six months to two years and extendable up to five years.

While the announcement of layoffs by IndiGo Airlines is the first such public announcement by any private airline in the country, there have reports that other private airlines too have been steadily reducing their workforce and cutting down on the salaries and benefits paid to the remaining employees, since late March.

For example, SpiceJet is reported to have been paying partial salaries to more than 92% of its workers since the country-wide lockdown began at the end of March.

On June 30, Vistara announced a pay cut between five to 20 per cent till December this year for around 40 per cent of its employees. Vistara has more than 4,000 employees on its payroll. AirAsia India has reportedly laid off many workers apart from imposing pay cuts.

In April, GoAir announced its decision to furlough 90% of its employees. They were asked to go on indefinite leave without pay. GoAir has 5,500 employees on its payroll.

Air Deccan has suspended operations and sent employees on unpaid leave.

Aviation is one of the important sectors that has been severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown. Domestic airlines services were completely stopped from the last week of March, right through the entire month of April and a part of May.

Domestic airline operations were resumed in the country in May, but with very limited capacity. Passengers have been unwilling to fly, out of fear of contracting the virus. According to data issued by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), domestic air traffic in June 2020 was down by 83.5% as compared to June 2019.  As a result it is being predicted (according to Ratings agency Crisil) that private airlines in India may have Rs 1.1-1.3 lakh crore revenue loss over 2020 – 2022.

Worldwide, aviation is among the worst-affected sectors due to the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), airlines globally can lose up to $113 billion due to this crisis, in passenger revenues alone. Many airlines are going into bankruptcy. Thousands of airlines workers have lost their jobs.

As in every crisis in any section of the economy, the workers have to bear the consequences, in the form of job losses, salary cuts and growing insecurity for the future. This is what is happening on a massive scale in the domestic aviation sector today as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown.

Maharashtra bank workers demand their right to weekly off

The  Maharashtra state authorities in the coastal districts of Raigad, Alibag, Panvel, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg asked bank officials to keep the branches open on all the weekly offs and holidays for the entire month in June & July 2020. This has meant that bank workers are working 7 days a week continuously including on public holidays! This has put a severe strain on the bank workers and some amongst them have gone into depression. They are unable to fulfil their family responsibilities and they are totally exhausted.

The United Forum of Bank Unions (UFBU), Maharashtra State, has been carrying on a struggle against this attack on the rights of bank workers. The United Forum of Bank Unions represents AIBEA, AIBOC, NCBE, AIBOA, BEFI, INBEF, NBOC, NOBW and NOBO.

On July 17, 2020, Comrade Devidas Tuljapurkar, Maharashtra State Convenor, UFBU, wrote to the Chief Minister of Maharashtra protesting against the State Government forcing bank employees in the above districts to work without weekly off and public holidays. The letter highlighted that the bank managements are not regularly sanitising the bank branches which are in violation of the Central and State Governments’ prescribed Standard Operating Procedures (SOP). More than 15 bank workers in Mumbai city alone have lost their lives due to Corona Virus and more than 100 workers have been infected.

The letter pointed out that though the public sector bank workers have been allowed to use the restricted local train services in Mumbai, the workers working in private sector banks and cooperative banks have been denied permission to use these services. The UFBU has demanded that workers of private sector banks should also be allowed to use the local train services.

The UFBU has pointed out that in the rural districts the banks are flooded with farmers applying for crop loans. Though their requirements are genuine, he said that there was total lack of social distancing in these circumstances and this increased the chances of the farmers and the bank workers getting infected.  He demanded assistance from the State authorities to regulate the bank customers in these rural branches for the safety of all.

The letter also points out that the State Governments of Kerala and Karnataka have declared that all the banks in these states will remain closed on all Saturdays. This is done to contain the spread of Corona virus. The UFBU has called upon the Chief Minister of Maharashtra to ensure closure of banks in Maharashtra on Saturdays in this period.

The demands raised in the letter by the representative of United Forum of Bank Unions, Maharashtra, are justified and need the support of all sections of the working class.

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