Air India defends leave without pay, says it's in very challenging financial situation

Air India said that the scheme lets employees take up alternative employment with the approval of the management while retaining their employment with Air India.
Air India defends leave without pay, says it's in very challenging financial situation
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National carrier Air India on Friday said that it is in a ‘very challenging financial’ situation and is taking recourse to several initiatives, with a view to ensuring the continuance of its operations.

The airline, in a statement, noted that it has introduced the partially voluntary 'Leave Without Pay' (LWP) scheme on July 14.

"The scheme primarily enables employees to avail the benefits of proceeding on leave without pay on a voluntary basis. The LWP scheme has been introduced for grant of leave without pay and allowances for permanent employees for a period of six months or two years, which is extendable upto 5 years," the statement said.

"Air India had brought out similar scheme earlier... Several hundred employees have, in the past, availed of the LWP Scheme."

As per the statement, in the wake of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, there may be employees who are unable to attend their office duties in person on account of personal reasons.

"The LWP scheme enables employees to take a break from their office responsibility for a defined period of time with the approval of the management, while retaining their employment with the company," the statement said.

"They will continue to avail facilities such as passage, medical and housing at specified rates."

Accordingly, the LWP scheme provides the opportunity to employees to take up alternative employment with the approval of the management during the period of the said leave, the airline said.

"The LWP scheme is a win-win situation for both the management as well as employees as it provides flexibility to employees and simultaneously reduces the wage bill for the company," the statement said.

"It is important to note here that the Covid-19 outbreak has very seriously impacted the airline sector and currently, the airline operations of the company are a small fraction of the prior Covid level operations."

The airline said that employees are encouraged to apply for availing the benefit of the scheme, in the prescribed format, by August 15.

"The only addition in this scheme as compared to the earlier LWP scheme is that the management can pass an order requiring the employees to go on leave for a period of six months or two years (extendable upto 5 years) compulsorily taking into consideration 'Suitability, Efficiency, Competence, Quality of performance, Health, Non-availability of employee and Redundancy'," the statement said.

Furthermore, the airline said that this provision has been introduced for use, "very sparingly", with a view to ensuring that the overall efficiency of the organisation, improves and the management will ensure that this will be implemented with complete fairness and transparency as per prescribed procedure.

Consequent to the announcement of the scheme, Air India unions are discussing their strategy against the move which might involve legal recourse.

An Air India union leader on Friday told IANS: "This is going to affect the livelihood of many. Why not every employee of AI take LWP a few days every month. This way the burden can be shared."

"The motive of the top management is to save their money by snatching money from lower employees."

According to Air India PIM document, as on November 1, 2019, the airline, on a standalone basis (without subsidiaries), had around 14,000 employees, including fixed term contract staff.

The development comes as the Centre has re-initiated the airline's divestment plan with new norms.

Interestingly, this time, it has sweetened the deal by substantially reducing the debt on the airline's account books and offered a 100 per cent stake in the loss-making airline.

The last date for bid submission to acquire Air India has also been extended to August 31.

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