Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Air India - Human fuel needed to be airborne

Air India's pilots, engineers, cabin crew, ground staff etc. have not been paid salaries for several months. And these are the human beings that are the most essential components of the airline to keep aeroplanes flying. The woes of the staff came to my knowledge recently when I was travelling; one of the airhostesses narrated the plight. I wondered if the salaries of CMD and directors of Air India were also stopped! It would be very unlikely as senior bureaucrats would have been hurt. It is sensational to learn from the Minister of Civil Aviation that the government made a mistake by merging erstwhile Air India and Indian Airlines (Indian) and the post merger actions by the government and the airlines had many gaps in making the merger a success. For the mistakes of bureaucrats and politicians and some others involved in the decision making, the consequences are passed onto the employees of the airlines who are expected to quietly accept them.

I watched a discussion on TV yesterday (Who killed Air India on The Buck Stops Here) and was stunned to hear the views of Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh and of some others in the panel. The Minister said that the government and management were responsible for the wrong decisions leading to the failure and that, though the Dharmadikari report was submitted in January, they will still take a few months to START discussing it. Despite this, he feels it is the Unions and employees who have to realise that they have a stake in Air India’s survival. He says he empathises with them but also that he expects them to continue to be  - silent sufferers? The panellists like Manish Tiwari, a Congress MP and R P Rudy, BJP (ex Civil Aviation Minister) said many things in a similar vein and that the government has walked the extra mile and it is the pilots who need to ask themselves the questions. I have nothing to do with Air India but I definitely have HUGE issues with such remarks. Those who were pontificating against the pilots – have they looked at the issues consequent upon one single action – not getting salary regularly, on time. As a retired salaried person I can well understand the difficulties faced if there are delays of even a few days in getting the salary. What do they expect the Air India staff to do – go around with a begging bowl to their friends, relatives and neighbours?

I wonder for how many days, salary was not paid to the administrative staff of the civil aviation ministry, the Minister of Civil Aviation himself, the CMD and other members of the Board of Air India etc.?  And here also count in the perquisites since that comprises their major remuneration. So let’s try an exercise – for six months do not pay the top brass in the Ministry and the board of Air India their salary and perks – and so during this period, no medical facilities unless they are paid for, no conveyance facility but you still have to reach office on your own, no telephone or mobile, and most important of all no house to stay in – after all the landlord would have evicted you because rent has not been paid. Let their children face the embarrassment of frequent reminders for fees in front of their classmates. And let loaners come knocking at the doors since EMI is delayed. And additionally let them get a permanent bad credit history. And then, with something like a level playing field so that we can see true empathy, let them air their views in such open debates.

And look at the justifications – that just because the ground staff and Air hostesses did not go on strike despite not getting paid, it was wrong for the pilots to go on strike. I wonder what point was being made – that just because some victims of child abuse or some rape victims do not speak out, it is wrong for any child or rape victim to speak out or to lodge a complaint. How ridiculous can you get?

There was a comment that the pilots are well qualified and if they were so dissatisfied they could easily look for another job. Maybe that is why the pilots spoke out, the airhostesses and ground staff could not muster the courage. And just because the politicians and bureaucrats who took the wrong decisions are “not qualified”,they are apparently entitled to remain in their seats, get their salary and perks and their promotions, without being accountable to anyone.

Courts have held “no work, no pay”. Why not “No pay, no work”? But obviously such expectations are only one sided?

So very many wrong decisions were taken – a very small one being that of changing the name to “Indian” and repainting this on the Aircraft without looking at the cost and its impact on payload,  (please see an earlier post of August 2011 Air India on ventilator ).

And the Minister was quite righteous while saying that Air India needs to be closed down and that the merger decision was a mistake. But this mistake was not made by the pilots or the ground staff, yet he feels that what he says is only correct. This decision was taken by the politicians and bureaucracy – let’s hear how many bureaucrats and politicians are being punished for this – how many of them, past to current, have lost their jobs, their pensions and their reputation? Or, as is usual, have the politicians and bureaucrats got accolades and plum postings and it is the hapless victims of these wrong decisions who, the present politicians and bureaucrats feel, can justifiably be further punished?