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August 25, 1998


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IA union threatens strikes and worse against Tata airline

The Air Corporations Employees Union, which represents 16,000 employees of Indian Airlines and is supported by all the major trade unions, today threatened to launch a ''prolonged, protracted struggle'', including strikes, if the government gave clearance to proposed private airline of the Tata group.

Union president C D Soman and leaders of the Centre for Indian Trade Unions and All India Trade Union Congress told newspersons in New Delhi that sustained industrial action, including direct strikes and other constitutional steps, would be launched to protect Indian civil aviation in general and Indian Airlines in particular.

Soman said the union was not against Tatas, but wanted to ensure that the aviation sector remains public owned. It had been vehemently opposing the open skies policy since 1991. Besides, there was no need for more airlines as excess capacity already existed, he added.

The union leader said the Tatas had been withholding information sought by the civil aviation ministry as to what technical collaboration they would have with Singapore Airlines.

Soman and the other workers' leaders present were of the opinion that Singapore Airlines, in the guise of technical collaboration, and American insurance companies, who would arrange financing, would finally gain full control of the airline.

''The Tata Airline proposal has evaded answering the question of investment by foreign institutional investors especially American Insurance Group and Singapore Investment Corporation.''

In view of the present circumstances of a negative growth in the domestic sector, coupled with the already existing excess capacity in Indian Airlines, the Tata Airlines proposal should be rejected by the government as otherwise the national carrier would be in deep financial and operational crises immediately, Soman said.

Several MPs have also recently written to the prime minister urging him not to allow the Foreign Investment Promotion Board to give clearance to the Tata proposal.

The unions said two decisions of the government -- divestment in Indian Airlines and entry of Tata Airlines -- would lead to ''disastrous consequences'' to civil aviation in the country.

Soman said the union had received no response to its letters to FIPB chairman T R Prasad and the civil aviation ministry. The trade unions had jointly written to the prime minister asking him to intervene and reject the Tata proposal.

The national carrier had been playing a nationalistic role and this should be recognised by the government, Soman said. Indian airlines flew to remote areas and in times of crises provided help which no private airline did, he added.

Asked if the trade union movement would also call for the eviction of the private airlines presently operating, Soman said, ''If there is fair competition, then the existing airlines will also close down.''


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