Mazdoor Ekta Lehar correspondent interviewed D K Shetty, All India President of the Air Corporation Employee Union (ACEU) on the struggle and conditions of Air India workers.
Mazdoor Ekta Lehar: Have the workers who were suspended during the last agitation been reinstated? What is their position now?
D K Shetty: There is no attempt on part of the Ministry or management to reconsider their dismissal. Our union offices all across India have been sealed by the management. All the agreements and awards with the management, office computers, legal books, personnel papers, and other office items have been confiscated by the management. We have no idea, in what conditions all these items are now.
The entire staff, from the cleaning/conservancy level to the office staff, those looking after the passengers, ground support staff, loading and unloading staff, cargo staff, as well as on-board staff are waging the struggle and are also members of our union. All staff are under threat, even as they are working. They are working under pressure. For example, they are not allowed to break off for meals; not even for a cup of tea. They are not allowed to leave even after their regular working hours.
Particularly the cabin crew are being forced by the management to violate the Director General of Civil Aviation’s (DGCA) approved flight duty limitation. Our Director for Northern Region Mr. Vijay Pal is threatening them with termination of services if they refuse to perform any task, just the way they have done with the union leaders.
Staff for manual work like baggage handling is inadequate, and management is imposing additional work load on those working. This is causing mental and physical stress on the workers.
MEL: What are your demands?
DKS : Two Committees have been set up by the government to turn around the situation of the airline – one is the Committee on Public Undertakings (COPU) and another is the Parliamentary Committee on Tourism and Culture. We are in agreement with the recommendations made by these Committees and we demand that they should be implemented.
Our union has been in existence since 1956 in this industry. But now it has been declassified by the management. Our offices all across India have been sealed in our absence. All this is against the law and also against the interest of the company. All over India 55 workers including leaders of our union have been dismissed without any notice, charge-sheet, or any kind of departmental investigation. All this is illegal. We are demanding that they should recognize our union, let our offices function and reinstate the workers who have been dismissed.
MEL: What is the staff strength? Is the number of staff being reduced?
DKS: As per the government policy there has been no recruitment in the past 16 years, since 1994, particularly in the general category. There have been no recruitments in SC/ST category as well. All this is happening while 5 to 8 percent of employees retire every year. On the other hand many new airlines have come in and the number of flight operations has increased. The workload on our workers is continuously increasing. This is also the reason that health of our workers is getting adversely affected. All across the country there are 6000 to 7000 casual workers hired on daily basis. For past 20 years they have been working in the hope that they will be regularized. They are not being given any facility, there is no wage revision for them, and they don’t have any paid leave.
MEL: How are other unions supporting your struggle?
DKS: All India Aircraft Engineering Association is participating in our struggle. There are many employees associations based on the category of staff. All these unions and associations have demanded from the management that they should start negotiating with our unions immediately, and resolve the issues. They have given this demand in writing to the management. We have been coordinating with these unions and associations. We had organised “Save Air India” convention together. In the convention we were in agreement that the recommendation of the two Committees mentioned earlier should be implemented.
MEL: The privatisation of Air India is underway. How are you waging a struggle against it?
DKS: We have given notice to the management against privatisation and we were planning a strike on May 31. Now, the matter in before the Chief Labour Commissioner for consideration. During the conciliation process, management asked for 15 days for responding to the demand, while the management is taking action against us. There is no other way than calling for an all India strike to press for our just demands.