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AI may cut number of unions from 15 to 2

September 20, 2013 10:55 IST

Air India aircraftAir India is considering a steep cut in the number of recognised unions in the airline, a move that may ensure efficient decision making during negotiations between the management and union representatives.

The national carrier has drawn a blueprint to cut the number of recognised unions in the airline from 15 to two -- one for pilots and another for the rest of the employees.

Air India’s staff is estimated at 25,000 (including staff at the airline’s maintenance-repair-overhaul and ground-handling subsidiaries).

If implemented, this would be the single-largest human resources transformative step in the airline’s history.

A few of the dominant unions Business Standard spoke to endorsed the move.

A senior Air India official involved in the process said, “Multiplicity of unions leads to conflicting demands, which often comes in the way of fruitful negotiations.

"We are looking at scaling down the number of recognised unions through elections.”

He added the two unions would be selected through an electoral process. Soon, Air India plans to put in place a four-member committee to frame the modalities of the elections.

The committee would include a retired trade union representative, a retired railways employee and an aviation industry specialist.

In 2007, the Indian Railways had reduced the number of unions from 34 to two.

As many as 1.4 million railway employees decided the number of unions, as well as their leadership, through secret ballot.

Major unions support Air India’s plan. “We are open to the plan of unification of unions.

However, we are against the management’s proposal of three separate unions for engineers for Air India, AIESL (Air India Engineering Services Ltd) and AIATSL (Air India Air Transport Services Limited),”

said George Abraham, general secretary, Aviation Industry Employees Guild, the largest representative body of former Air India employees.

According to the plan, the airline’s subsidiaries — AIESL (maintenance repair and overhaul) and AIATSL (ground handling) — would have three additional recognised unions between them.

However, the pilots’ union feels the airline management should resolve other HR issues first. “Some HR issues related to bringing parity in pay structures and benefits extended to the employees of Air India and erstwhile Indian Airlines are pending.

We want the management to address these before going ahead with measures to rationalise unions,” said an office bearer of the Indian Commercial Pilots Association.

Amber Dubey, partner and head (aviation), KPMG, said, “Rationalising the number of unions at Air India is a long-pending reform. The management would have fewer union leaders to talk to and the conversation is likely to be more mature.

"Fewer unions also means they would have higher bargaining power to get their legitimate demands accepted, rather than one being pitted against the other. Multiplicity of unions helps none other than, perhaps, union leaders.”.

“No one has forgotten the debilitating pilots’ strike during the peak summer season last year. Everyone lost -- Air India, Indian passengers, foreign tourists, India’s brand image and the real owner of Air India, the Indian taxpayer,” he added.

In May 2012, the Indian Pilots’ Guild, which represents pilots of erstwhile Air India, went on a 58-day strike to protest against the promotion procedure and the induction of pilots from erstwhile Indian Airlines in training programmes to fly Dreamliners.

Subsequently, the Indian Pilots’ Guild was derecognised by Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh.

Sharmistha Mukherjee in New Delhi