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Trade unions fear lob losses, wage cuts as air India goes to Tata

 With the news of  Govt.accepting the Tata bid  for taking over the Air India went on air,trade unions have expressed deep concern over the sale deal. They feel this sale is “virtually a free gift” by the Govt. To the Tata group. .

On 13th Oct., in a joint statement, Central trade unions (CTUs) termed the AI sale-deal as the “worst-ever perverted economic deal for frittering away (a) national asset”. They added that the consequences of the deal that involved the selling of the “assets [that were] created over decades with public money” for an amount that is “too less” would also harm the public interest at large.

“Several lakhs crores was infused from the national exchequer to expand [AI’s] asset base, [its] huge fleet of aircraft and properties, both in the country and abroad,” the CTUs said in a statement, adding, “only in 2009-10, Rs. 1,10,000 crore was infused in Air India by Govt.”

These assets will now be handed over to the private group, while most of the debt will remain with the Centre as part of the agreement. “This is a gift back to Tata on 75th year of independence after its takeover by Govt. in 1948 followed by its nationalisation,” read the statement, signed by Indian National Trade Union Congress, All India Trade Union Congress, Hind Mazdoor Sabha, Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), All India United Trade Union Centre, Trade Union Coordination Centre, Self Employed Women's Association, All India Central Council of Trade Unions, Labour Progressive Federation, United Trade Union Congress.

“The joint platform of the central trade unions, independent federations and associations deplore the sale of Air India, the only air carrier with the government in too less an amount than what has gone into building it up for decades into making it a giant carrier,” the joint platform of 10 central trade unions as well as other independent associations and federations said in a statement.

“The fall out is not only the assets created over decades with public money being sold out at cheap rates but it would be harming the public interest as well,” it added.

According to the statement, several lakhs crores were infused from the national exchequer to expand its asset base by adding a huge fleet of aircrafts and properties, both in the country and abroad, including Rs 1,10,000 crore in 2009-10.

However, the sale deal with the Tatas envisages that the government will absorb Rs 46,262 crore of the Rs 67000 crore debt burden of Air India but the assets created by such debt will be handed over to Tata in lieu of only Rs 18000 crore, it said.

The sale of AI means India will be among the few countries where the government will now not own its air carrier,said, Tapan Sen, general secretary, CITU.

Indeed, the AI’s experience serves as a textbook case in demonstrating how to first put a Central Public Sector Enterprise (CPSE) in a tough spot and then sell it off to a private player.

Even as AI is now sold off to the Tata Group, the government must not remain silent about its policies that led to AI's fall. Vilas Girdhar, convenor, Joint Forum of Air India Unions and Associations – a joint body comprising 14 employees’ unions of the airline and its subsidiaries said that “The AI employees are not opposing the privatisation of the airline because they have been fed up by how things were running. Even then, every one of us knows the truth of how the AI was systematically pushed to where it was now".

Moreover, a section of employees with the state-run carrier is also worried about the potential change in their service conditions post-privatisation as those serving would be adversely affected as the workers are given protection for one year only. Large number of employees are in the age group of 40-55 years which renders them ineligible for jobs in other companies, it added.

The pilots, cabin crew, engineers, among others,  fear that the private player would resort to wage cuts  and other cost-reduction measures to stay competitive in the market. Currently, AI has over 12,000 employees – about 8,000 of them permanent and the rest on a contractual basis.