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Airlines divided on impact of Jet deal

By Surajeet Das Gupta
September 14, 2009 11:19 IST
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Airline managements are divided on the likely impact of the settlement of the Jet Airways imbroglio, with some carriers fearing that "collective bargaining" by employees could "ruin" the industry, especially during the current downturn.

While no one is ready to go on record, a CEO of a private airline said: "It's is not the question of whether they have a union or not, but the issue is that collective bargaining by employees will ruin the industry. In fact, any dream of airlines like Air India restructuring will now be thrown out of the window."

However, CEOs of low-cost carriers are not so worried and say the problem which hit Jet is typical for full-service carriers, which are desperate to cut costs. Says a director in a leading LCC carrier: "The problem actually affects FSCs, as they have offered certain privileges like 5-star hotels, free holidays, etc, to pilots, which they are now being forced to withdraw unilaterally, as they try to reach LCC costs. In the case of LCCs, the pilots already know they don't have these privileges from the very outset."

Some CEOS concede they cannot avoid pilots having collective bargaining power and have to live with this global reality. "LCCs like South West Airlines and others globally have unions who are powerful. You have to live with them and interact with them. What is important is a two-way communication between the two, which was clearly lacking in Jet Airways," points out one CEO.

Airline experts say the Jet agreement is significant for the industry, as private airlines do not have a structured grievance redressal system. "Forming a consultative committee is a recognition of the grievances that exists. This will be good for the aviation industry, as other airlines would also understand the grievances of the employees and do likewise before things go bad," says Kapil Kaul who heads the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation in India.

However, trade unions are peeved at the possibility of the union being disbanded. Says M K Pandhe, president of the pro-CPM, CITU: "The right to form a union cannot be compromised, as NAG (the Jet pilots' union) has already been registered. Now if the management tries to get it dissolved by influencing the government, then that is an issue that trade unions would fight."

But other aviation unions say the success of the pilots is key for the benefit of customers. Says a senior representative of Indian Commercial Pilots Association, which represents the pilots for Air India's domestic operations: "Private airlines are pushing pilots beyond safety norms, especially in times of slowdown, whether it is more flying hours, flying aircraft which pilots are not comfortable with, etc. Unions or even a redressal committee is essential to see that you have the right to say No to the management, as you are solely responsible for the customer's safety."


In association with Sreelatha Menon & Mihir Mishra
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Surajeet Das Gupta in New Delhi
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