Okay, well, the technical term is a furlough, but Air India is working with the bureaucratic and more Indian name here, Leave Without Pay. For the longest time, Air India has been a bit flip-flop on their HR response to the CoronaVirus situation, which has almost grounded most of the aviation industry across the globe.
In India, most airlines have worked differently through the pandemic, with the more cash-crunched ones such as GoAir putting up employees on Leave Without Pay since April 2020. Others such as Vistara have done minor pay cuts, and manage it on month by month basis, but not as a firm policy so far.
However, today, Air India has brought up a new HR policy, where they have decided that they can put anyone in the company on a furlough, without calling it one, for up to five years. Air India took this decision in its Board meeting on July 7, 2020, and notified it firmwide today. If you are interested in the memo, it is here.
Air India’s memo reads that employees can voluntarily opt-in for Leave Without Pay for six months to up to 2 years, extendable up to 5 years at the most. Not just that, Air India has can also decide to put people on such LWP unilaterally, based on the following factors:
- Quality of Performance
- The health of the employee
- Non-availability of the employee for duty in the past, as a result of ill health or otherwise.
This is a catch-all sort of power, which allows the airline to put anyone they deem fit for any reason for a period they deem appropriate. Air India is one of the most bloated airlines around the world, with a very high staff: plane ratio and the intention of this move seems to stem the cash flow to salaries, which by many accounts is INR 250 crores per month (about USD 33 million).
This does not come as a surprise, given aviation has taken a steep fall. Airlines in India were closed for passenger business for a couple of months. However, Air India was flying through the pandemic, organise repatriation flights for Indians across the globe. People saw the vast amounts they were charging and joked about how Air India’s losses would be all covered up with these repatriation flights, missing out on the point that there is a tremendous amount of loans to be serviced in the airline and the airline is crushing under the burden of its fiscals.
I’m a bit of a mess on this one. Head says Air India is doing the right thing, but it is not. Air India is not outright letting go, employees, which also affects their employment chances at other airlines in India or abroad when the burden of the pandemic eases and airlines start expanding again. India anyways has a considerable roadblock to pilots switching jobs, given their six months or so notice period “in the public interest”.
Heart says, these are the people who worked against the tide to bring Indians displaced home, and they should be treated better. A voluntary retirement scheme at this point is out of the question given that involves paying the employees to allow them to leave, and they haven’t received salaries from the past in many cases as well.
What do you think of Air India’s move to send employees on extended leave without pay?
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