With Kingfisher airlines founder Vijay Mallya planning to move to UK to be with his children, a former employee of the cash-strapped airline has spoken out about being left in the lurch on account of non-payment of dues.
Mallya on Thursday stepped down as non-executive chairman of United Spirits Ltd, controlled by Diageo Plc, after making a $75-million deal with the company that has also agreed to drop all charges of irregularities against him and is reportedly relocating to UK.
After hearing about Vijay Mallya’s move to UK, Girish (name changed on request) said he had only one thing to tell Mallya- "If you are a 'Man', you will realise that you owe us. Pay at least half the amount that Kingfisher owes us. You cannot get away like this from people who were loyal and trusted you. He has really let us down."
“He has nothing to worry about, not even the case on Kingfisher that is pending in the court. Last time the judge recused himself from hearing the case because his son was working with UB group. Two years and still no conclusion.”
Girish, who was with Kingfisher as a pilot flying internationally, had to compromise on his salary and designation when he found a job in a new airline, three years after Kingfisher closed down.
"I was an Airbus A330 pilot with over 12 years of experience before Kingfisher closed down. I was flying international flights at Kingfisher, which stopped operating them in March 2012. When Kingfisher closed down in October, I had not flown for 7 months and that is bad for any pilot," he said.
Girish had waited, hoping the airlines would be revived because Vijay Mallya had personally promised this to all the employees through a mail after it closed down completely in October 2012.
"A few people left when they did not receive two to three months salaries. We thought it was stupid on their part to do so. But it turns out they were the smartest. Do you know the saying 'Love your job not your company'? That really hit me hard," Girish said.
"Mallya mailed us all personally saying, "Please don't leave the company. If you stay back I will reward you". And that really moved us. We were and wanted to continue being loyal to him. While working with Kingfisher, we even saved fuel as much as possible," said an ex-Kingfisher employee.
"I had an ostentatious lifestyle when I was working with Kingfisher. I had exhausted all my savings as I had to take care of a relative apart from my parents. I had to pay Rs. 95,000 installment to the bank, which threatened to take my house away if I did not pay by February 2013," he added.
When Girish found a job after three years in late 2014, he was offered a salary that was half of what he earned at Kingfisher. Not just that, he had to be content with operating only domestic flights.
"With 12 years of experience, I used to earn Rs 2 lakh while I was with Kingfisher. And when I joined another airline in 2015, they offered me Rs.90,000. People younger to me, with just 2 years experience, earn close to Rs 4 lakh per month today. The airline spent over Rs 15 lakh for training me on an Airbus A320 aircraft and asked me to sign a bond of Rs 17 lakh. I am due for an appraisal only a year later. But what choice do I have?" he asked.
"There was a point when hundreds of people were fighting for a job even in a small airline company which had 10 positions open. There was one person who even committed suicide," he said.
To make ends meet, Girish, who is supposed to get over Rs 30 lakh from Kingfisher as dues, borrowed money from his girlfriend, parents and friends in 2014.
When Girish asked the Income Tax department for a refund of the TDS that they owed him, the department slapped a tax demand notice of over Rs 15 lakh on him.
"I still remember that day. I was nibbling on the toasted bread for dinner, when I received a reply to my mail to IT department asking for my refund, they said I instead owed them Rs 18 lakh. I couldn't stop laughing at my helplessness," said Girish.
"I was literally brought down to penury. My father who had retired around the same time had to let go off his savings for my relative's treatment. There was a time when I would get scared if someone even had a cough," he added.
Even after having resumed work with another airline, Girish now lives with absolutely no savings, as he has to pay back his friends from whom he borrowed in the last three years.