A few days after Union Cabinet gave its in-principal approval for disinvestment of Air India, the employees' union of the national airline is planning a stir against any move to privatise the debt-ridden national carrier. Air India's largest employees' union will hold its general body meeting here this week to "organise its members for a movement" against the government's decision to privatise Air India. The Air Corporations Employees' Union (ACEU) is also planning to meet a group of ministers to be set up by the government to look into the disinvestment of its stake in the airline.
The ACEU is a grouping of Air India's non-technical staff and comprises nearly 8,000 of the total 21,137 employees.
"The meeting will be held to enlighten the rank and file about the privatisation of Air India and how it will affect them. This will also be a forum to organise them as we plan a movement against the privatisation of the national carrier," said a member of the ACEU.
"The move is clearly aimed at benefiting private airlines. If the government is so concerned about the taxpayers' money, then why does it not recover Rs 7.5 lakh crore borrowed by corporates from public sector banks?" the member asked.
Seven unions of Air India have already joined hands to oppose the privatisation of the financially bleeding airline. Their representatives met last month and wrote to Union Minister for Civil Aviation Ashok Gajapthi Raju, warning him of an "industrial unrest".
The letter was written jointly by the AI Air Corporate Employees Union, AI Employees Union, AI Aircraft Engineers' Association, United Air India Officers' Association, AI Engineer's Association, AI Cabin Crew Association and AI Service Engineers' Association.
These unions will also hold talks with the two pilots' unions -- Indian Commercial Pilots' Association and Indian Pilots' Guild -- and Indian Aircraft Technicians' Association to bring them on board.
They have called NITI Aayog's report on Air India "arbitrary and unilateral" and said it was prepared without consulting the employees, who are the largest stakeholders. In a report submitted to the Civil Aviation Ministry in May, the NITI Aayog recommended strategic disinvestment from the loss-making Air India, by which government control would be transferred to a private owner.
The airline, which was afloat thanks to a Rs 30,231 crore nine-year bailout programme approved in 2012, has about Rs 52,000 crore of debt. It is hampered by debt and servicing costs, which largely eroded its recovery.
Air India, which made an operating profit of about Rs 100 crore in 2015-16 on back of drop in oil prices, but posted a net loss of Rs 3,840 crore, has seen its market share shrink to 12.9 per cent from 35 per cent a decade back.