Air India Chairman Ashwani Lohani has told the unions that Air India privatisation is on the Centre’s agenda and it will happen. (Photographer: Kuni Takahashi/Bloomberg)

Employee Unions Oppose Air India Privatisation Bid, Fearing Job Loss

Over a dozen employee unions on Monday opposed the central government’s second Air India privatisation bid fearing job loss, sources in the unions said after a meeting with the airline's management. "The forum of 13 unions have decided to oppose the Air India privatisation move," a union functionary said.

After Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman spelt out in her budget speech the union government’s intent for an Air India stake sale, Chairman Ashwani Lohani on Monday called a meeting of all 13 employee unions of the airline to discuss the privatisation plan.

During the meeting, which lasted for about two hours, union representatives told the management that they were ready to do anything to turn around the carrier but would not "accept" privatisation at any cost, sources said. Unions have demanded a meeting with the Aviation Ministry as well as Finance Ministry over this issue.

"The unions have asked for the payment of all pending arrears first, before considering anything. Moreover, they have also asked for protection of all post-retirement benefits of employees," sources said.

During the meeting, Lohani told the unions that Air India's privatisation is on the Centre's agenda and it will happen, the sources added.

Media reports said the government has set an October deadline to complete the Air India privatisation process. The government had in its first term tried to exit from the airline business but failed to get a buyer, forcing it to defer the stake sale plans.

The government had on Friday reiterated its intent to exit Air India with Sitharaman stating in the budget speech that the government will go ahead with its privatisation. It earmarked Rs 1 lakh from the budget for the airline.

"In view of the current macroeconomic parameters, the government would not only re-initiate the process of strategic disinvestment of Air India, but would also offer more central enterprises for strategic participation by the private sector,” Sitharaman said in her budget speech.

The Air India employee unions have consistently been opposing any bid to sell the flag carrier, claiming that privatisation is not a remedy—pointing to the way Kingfisher Airlines and Jet Airways (India) Ltd. went belly up.

As many as six private airlines, including Jet Airways, Air Pegasus, Air Odisha and Air Costa, have shut shops between 2014 and April 2019 for various reasons.

Bloomberg Quint

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