The reinstatement of 61 Air India workers is a victory for the workers and an illustration of the arbitrary and unjust policies of government
Photo caption: AI pilots protest
by BA and Venkatesh Sundaram
As many as 61 Air India pilots whose services were terminated were reinstated with orders to pay their back wages by the quashing of the termination order by the Delhi High Court recently. These pilots had their services terminated in August 2020 with the airline citing coronavirus pandemic and financial crisis as reasons.
Elsewhere it has been pointed out that Air India management had argued that some of the pilots had resigned, which were subsequently withdrawn, and hence was justified in terminating the contract. In any event, there were many Vande Bharat flights on which the pilots had served and had carried out their duties in an exemplary manner risking their lives to carry out their duties. Thus, the quashing of the order is a victory for the working people of the country, and an illustration of the arbitrary and unjust policies of management.
Much confusion is caused about the fact that Air India is a publicly held company and that therefore it enjoys all kinds of subsidies and is not profit making. Going back into the history of the company, it was a company first founded by the Tatas which was taken over by the Government in order to be able to expand services to many parts of the country long before the era of liberalisation. It was the only airline serving the needs of the country. In the era of privatisation and opening of the skies, many players have entered the market. Air India too has been competing and the management does face the pressure to show profits, as is evident from the present case.
The Indian economic model is one of a mixed-economy in the early post-independence phase. At that time, fresh from the nationalist struggle the people of India staked a claim to the wealth and future of the country. In the PSU sector many advantages were extended to working people and the building of social capital. Nevertheless, the primary defining feature of the economy remained profit-oriented. Even PSUs and others had to try to make profit. Subsidies were extended so that they would supply raw material and finished products that would be inputs to private industry and for building the infra-structure of the country, which private hands could not do. Air India too comes under this rubric.
Air India was often used to fly government officials and their retinues with dues being settled in a tardy fashion. Free tickets were often given to many people whom the authorities wanted to please, causing a loss of revenue for the airline. Being government-owned, it often had to fly on routes dictated by the authorities which may not have brought in sufficient revenue to be justified. It was also called upon to perform many duties like rescuing Indians stranded in the Kuwait and Gulf wars, which private airlines were often exempt from. All of these are conveniently forgotten while talking about the “profitability” of the airline.
The present case shows that the primary clash remains between the working people (including contractual workers, pilots, engineers, aircrew, ground staff) and the management (in this case the Government of India). It is clear that the airline was also being used by the Government for various purposes and not adequately compensated, which is also the reason for many of the losses in the books. Under the pretext of profits and lack of affordability, the management was planning to willy-nilly fire workers. The people of India must be ever vigilant about such shenanigans and be aware that the working people, irrespective of whether they are highly paid or not are part of the working people. And the defence of the working the people is paramount to ensure that majority of the people have well-being.