No pink slips, but Air India exploring leave without pay option (Roundup)

October 16th, 2008 - 8:49 pm ICT by IANS  

Hyderabad/New Delhi, Oct 16 (IANS) Call it Jet lag! Air India Thursday said it was considering voluntary leave without pay for some staff for three to five years, even as Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel said there would be no retrenchment by the national carrier.The separate statements came a day after Jet Airways, fresh after a strategic and operational pact with rival Kingfisher Airlines, said it was terminating the services of as many as 1,900 employees in a bid to cut losses.

“There will be no retrenchment in Air India,” Patel told reporters in Hyderabad on the sidelines of an aviation conference, co-organised by his ministry and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci).

“My sympathies are with those employees laid off by private airlines but this is an issue that other ministries - such as the labour ministry - will have to deal with,” he said.

A ministry spokesperson also said in New Delhi that Air India will not retrench staff but those who take up the offer of leave without pay will be taken back if they wished at the same designation and the last pay drawn.

“Nacil (the National Aviation Co of India that owns Air India) is not mulling any layoff. We are considering offering three-four years leave without pay package to people who opt for it - 15,000 employees are eligible.”

Air India - which is now the only brand name of the newly formed Nacil after the merger with Indian Airlines - has total staff of around 23,000.

Later, however, Air India’s executive director of corporate communication Jitender Bhargava said reports that the airline was mulling leave without pay for as many as 15,000 employees were not correct.

“Air India is not laying off anybody and all we are doing is to revive a scheme that we had in 2002 and 2003 where any employee who wants to voluntarily go on leave without pay will be allowed to do so,” he said.

He said a journalist had asked Air India’s chairman and managing director Raghu Menon Wednesday about cost-cutting measures and that he had talked of reviving a voluntary leave scheme the airline had introduced six years ago.

According to Bhargava, Menon had said only employees in the non-operational areas would be eligible for the scheme. “So when the journalist asked how many non-operational employees Air India had, our chairman had mentioned the figure 15,000.”

He said when such a scheme was introduced, about 300 employees had availed of it, adding that this time too, 300 to 500 employees would likely opt for the scheme.

Bhargava said the scheme would allow an employee to go on leave for three to five years on lien and at the end of the leave period, the person would come back and join duty at the original designation.

He said women employees with young children or family obligations found the scheme beneficial as they did not have to give up their jobs but could still attend to their home-making duties.

Similarly, older male employees who wanted to give some time to set up post-retirement businesses would find this leave beneficial.

Bhargava said the scheme was still in the proposal stage and would have to be approved by the company’s board, adding that the process could take four-six weeks.

Patel, meanwhile, continued to bat for Jet Airways and Kingfisher Airlines and said he hoped state governments will ensure that there would be no law and order problem after the retrenchment of 1,900 employees.

“Some time in the 1960s, a US president had said ‘We don’t have good roads because we are rich. We are rich because we have good roads’,” the minister said to emphasise the importance of aviation infrastructure.

“The same applies to India - we will be rich if we have good roads and also good aviation infrastructure,” he said speaking on the theme - “India Aviation: Scaling new heights”

The minister said India would be spending billions of dollars over the next few years not only to build airports through the public-private partnership route, but also on air traffic control, aviation security and aviation infrastructure.

“We need the whole gamut of aviation infrastructure,” said Patel, even as Civil Aviation Secretary M. Madhavan Nambiar said India offered an excellent potential for investors in the sector.

“India will be spending $30 billion on airport modernisation slone.”

Although India is the ninth largest aviation market in the world, air travel penetration in the country is low with per capita trips standing at 0.02, compared to 2.2 in the US and 1.2 in China.

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