Air India trade unions to demand VRS today

Minister Hardeep S Puri had made it clear in the first meeting on 2 January that privatisation was the only option before the government to keep the airline going

Trade unions of workers of Air India will demand a VRS package during their second meeting with Minister of State for Civil Aviation Hardeep Singh Puri in New Delhi on Monday. The minister will meet 15 odd Air India trade unions, including unrecognised ones, for the second time in January to finalise the way to privatise thr airline.

The union government is planning to float an Expression of Interest (EoI) to sell its entire 100% stake in the loss-making flag carrier next week.

Puri had made it clear in the first meeting on 2 January that privatisation was the only option before the government to keep the airline going. He had sought Air India employees’ cooperation in carrying out the disinvestment process.

The minister had told the unions he would call them again after the meeting of the ministerial panel on Air India disinvestment. “Initially, we were told that government would protect our jobs if airline gets privatised and therefore we did not think about voluntary retirement. But of late, our members have been approaching us and want us to discuss a voluntary retirement scheme package with the government as it is expected that our job will be protected only for one year post privatisation. We are going to raise this issue at the meeting with the minister on Monday,” an airline source said.

The source said if the government were to agree “in-principle” on their demand, the unions would work out the contours of the VRS package, including the service cut-off period and the quantum of monetary compensation.

The new investor may be allowed to retain 11,000 odd employees of Air India just for one year after the carrier goes to private shareholders.

The Group of Ministers (GoM) led by Union Home Minister Amit Shah during its meeting on 7 January approved the plan to invite EoI and the sale-purchase agreement for the disinvestment of state-run carrier, an official had earlier said.

The net loss of Air India in 2018-19 was around Rs 8,556 crore. Moreover, its per day losses are estimated to be in the range of Rs 20 crore – Rs 26 crore and a debt of around Rs 80,000 crore.

In 2018, the government had proposed to offload 76% stake in Air India while retaining the rest 24% with it as well as transfer the management control to private players. However, the offer failed to attract any bidder when the deadline for initial bids closed on 31 May 2018, forcing it to put the plans on hold and then resume the entire process all over again last year.

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