An employees’ union on Friday moved the Madras High Court with a prayer to restrain the Union Civil Aviation Ministry and Air India from proceeding further with the process of the national carrier’s disinvestment without taking appropriate steps to protect the rights of the staff.
The court, in interim relief to the petitioner, restrained the Ministry and other authorities concerned from evicting the members of the Air Corporation Employees’ Union in Meenambakkam here from their residences provided by the management of Air India Limited.
Justice V Parthiban, who granted the relief while admitting a writ petition from the association by its president C Udayashankar, also restrained the authorities concerned from discontinuing all the medical facilities the members were hitherto enjoying.
The Union government had in October signed a share purchase agreement with Tata Sons for the sale of Air India for Rs 18,000 crore, with the Centre earlier accepting an offer by Talace Pvt Ltd, a unit of the holding company of the salt-to-software conglomerate, to pay Rs 2,700 crore cash and take over Rs 15,300 crore of the airline’s debt.
The main prayer of the petitioner was to restrain the Ministry and Air India Limited from proceeding further with the process of disinvestment without taking appropriate steps to protect the terms and conditions of service and the rights of the employees, represented by the union.
It also prayed the court to issue an interim direction to the Ministry to disclose the contents of the share purchase agreement entered into by them with Talace Private Limited on October 25 this year. According to the petitioner association, the Centre and the management of Air India had shared neither the draft share purchase agreement nor its content with the union prior to signing it. Such non-disclosure is in violation of the rights of the employees protected under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. Their action of entering into the share purchase agreement without holding prior consultations with the petitioner union in respect of the clauses relating to the protection of the service conditions of employees of Air India is arbitrary, unjust and unfair and amounts to violation of Article 14 of the Constitution. The union is given to understand that as per the terms of the agreement, the new employer will be required to retain the employees of Air India in service for just one year. Denial of job security to the employees post disinvestment is contrary to the service regulations and standing orders, it contended. As per the applicable service regulations and standing orders, they are entitled to continue in service until the age of 58 years which is the age of superannuation. These issues need to be addressed before the completion of the disinvestment process. The action of the government and Air India in rushing to complete the process of disinvestment without addressing the aforesaid issues is arbitrary, unfair and unjust.
The proposed move to evict employees of Air India from the company provided accommodation post disinvestment without affecting any increase in their house rent allowance will deprive the employees and their family members of the right to decent housing which is in violation of Article 21 of the Constitution. The proposed change in the medical benefits presently extended to service as well as retired employees of the company post disinvestment is in violation of the right to health of the employees and their family members which is protected under Article 21 of the Constitution.
”Without prejudice to the submission that all the employees of Air India should be retained in service by the new employer until the age of 58 years, the authorities had failed to frame a suitable Voluntary Retirement Scheme or Voluntary Separation Scheme as per the guidelines of the Department of Public Enterprises issued in 2018,” petitioner contended.
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