Even as the process of 100% disinvestment in Air India is under progress, the Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Puri has revealed that whoever buys the airline finally has to commit to retain employees for a fixed period, reports Livemint. The exact period for which the employees will have to be carried through by the new owner of the airline will be negotiated, the Minister said.
This is possibly the second condition that the government is imposing, the first being that the name of the airline will have to be maintained as Air India.
Employee unions have been strongly opposing the move by the government to privatise the airline and representatives of multiple unions have been holding meetings with Puri. They are worried about losing their jobs since one of the first things any new management would do is to prune manpower. Public sector firms are generally perceived to be overstaffed, as it was found in the case of the telecom companies BSNL and MTNL. Though the government retained those two firms, it first insisted on the companies reducing the number of employees before it agreed to release funds to revive them.
In the case of Air India though, the Civil Aviation Minister is of the opinion that the staff count is not abnormal. His logic is that the airline has not made any new recruitment for years and therefore there is no redundancy in the manpower. This could be an argumentative issue, but best left to the successful bidder to sort out. For the record, Air India has a manpower count of 9,426 permanent workers, 4,201 contract employees and over 2,867 employees on deputation. The last are on deputation from other companies. This was the situation as on November 1, 2020.
The government is quite confident of going through with the transaction this time to find a buyer for the troubled airline. The expression of interest (EoI) documents have been released on January 27 and some roadshows held. The Minister is confident there is a lot on interest among the possible investors.
To be fair, the government has taken a few steps to make the deal much more attractive for any buyer to be keen on a takeover. A large part of the debts on the books of Air India have been moved out to a separate company, Air India Asset Holdings Ltd.