Disinvestment of Air India: The Union Files a Petition in the High Court on Behalf of Employees

An employees’ union petitioned the Madras High Court on Friday, requesting that the Union Civil Aviation Ministry and Air India refrain from proceeding with the national carrier’s disinvestment process without taking appropriate steps to protect employees’ rights. The court granted the petitioner interim relief, prohibiting the Ministry and other authorities from evicting members of the Air Corporation Employees’ Union in Meenambakkam from residences provided by Air India Limited management.

While admitting a writ petition from the association’s president C Udayashankar, Justice V Parthiban granted the relief and also restrained the authorities from discontinuing all of the medical services that the members had previously enjoyed.

The Centre had previously accepted an offer from Talace Pvt Ltd, a unit of the salt-to-software conglomerate’s holding company, to pay Rs 2,700 crore cash and take over Rs 15,300 crore of the airline’s debt, with the Union government signing a share purchase agreement with Tata Sons for the sale of Air India for Rs 18,000 crore in October.

The petitioner’s main request was that the Ministry and Air India Limited refrain from proceeding with the disinvestment process without taking appropriate steps to protect the employees’ terms and conditions of service and rights, as represented by the union.

It also asked the court to issue an interim order compelling the Ministry to reveal the contents of the share purchase agreement it made with Talace Private Limited on October 25.

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The petitioner association claims that the Centre and Air India management did not share the draught share purchase agreement or its content with the union before signing it.

Employees’ rights under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution are infringed upon by such non-disclosure. Their action of entering into the share purchase agreement without first consulting the petitioner union on clauses relating to the protection of Air India employees’ service conditions is arbitrary, unjust, and unfair, and constitutes a violation of Article 14 of the Constitution.

The union has been informed that, under the terms of the agreement, the new employer will be required to keep Air India employees on for only one year. It claimed that denying employees job security after disinvestment violated service regulations and standing orders.

They are entitled to continue in service until they reach the age of 58, which is the age of superannuation, as per the applicable service regulations and standing orders. Before the disinvestment process is completed, these issues must be addressed. The government’s and Air India’s actions in rushing to complete the disinvestment process without addressing the aforementioned issues are arbitrary, unfair, and unjust.

The proposed move to evict Air India employees from company-provided housing after disinvestment without increasing their house rent allowance will deprive employees and their families of their right to decent housing, in violation of Article 21 of the Constitution. The proposed change in medical benefits currently provided to service and retired employees of the company following disinvestment violates the employees’ and their family members’ right to health, which is protected under Article 21 of the Constitution.

“Without prejudice to the submission that all Air India employees should be retained in service by the new employer until the age of 58 years,” the petitioner claimed, “the authorities had failed to frame a suitable Voluntary Retirement Scheme or Voluntary Separation Scheme as per the Department of Public Enterprises guidelines issued in 2018.”

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