NEW DELHI, May 7.
In early days, during an industrial unrest in India, the workers invariably used to get victimised since they lacked the necessary money and resources to lodge and pursue a case in a court of Law. Today, in the case of Jet Airways, the situation is different. The workers, especially the pilots and the engineers, are true professionals, financially well secured and as such are in a position to mobilize funds whenever needed. In a first of its kind, deriving strength from such Angel Investors, the employees have shown the temerity to speak to the owner: “Sell us your shares, hand over the management.”
This is the only way possible with which a crisis-laden company like Jet Airways can be turned around. Surprisingly, the SBI-led consortium of lenders chose to look the other way and instead of grabbing this proposal the Team SBI preferred to dilly dally the project.
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However, now the SBI and its team of lenders will have to answer several questions. Though they could not reply to the letters written to them by the employees, they may now be summoned to appear in the Supreme Court and record their response.
Why is Team SBI behaving so differently? One advantage that the employees have is that the Jet’s crisis was not their fault, so they have little to lose and much more to gain from being as open as possible. In the case of Jet Airways, as we are gradually learning, it is going to be hard to paint the Team SBI’s actions in any blameless tone.
Jet Airways’ pilots’ union, the National Aviator’s Guild (NAG), has appealed in the Supreme Court of India through a court filing to direct State Bank Of India (SBI) to release interim funding to try to revive the debt-laden grounded airline,
In its petition the NAG said that SBI’s decision not to release the interim funding of 15 billion rupees (RM890 million), after agreeing to it in March as part a resolution plan, has resulted in the airline being grounded and has impacted the livelihood of Jet’s 22,000 employees
This “singular decision” by SBI was responsible for the operations of Jet Airways coming to a stop and “substantial de-valuation/depreciation in the value of Jet”.
Without the emergency funds Jet was unable to pay rentals on its leased aircraft, forcing lessors to take back planes.
Its slots have been temporarily re-allocated to other airlines and some of its pilots and other employees who have not been paid in months have taken up jobs elsewhere.
The union has asked the Supreme Court to direct the civil aviation ministry and aviation regulator to decline any further de-registration requests for Jet’s leased aircraft and not to reassign its slots to other airlines permanently, according to the filing.
Allocation of Jet’s slots, allotment of its seats under the international bilateral agreement with other airlines and handing over its de-registered aircraft to other carriers without following due process has “further devalued the worth of Jet Airways”, the union said in its petition.
“The consequence is that there is hardly any likelihood of some serious buyer for the airline,” the pilots’ union said in the petition, urging the court to act swiftly.
SBI, as part of the resolution plan, has also invited bids from potential investor to take a stake in Jet. So far no bidders have publicly shown interest and the final bids are expected to be submitted by May 10.
On the other hand, another union – the Bharatiya Kamgar Sena has threatened industrial action at the Mumbai airport if the airline’s employees are not paid their due salaries.
The said union is Shiv Sena affiliated.
“Please note that looking at the woos of Jet Airways employees, our members employed at Mumbai airport are extremely agitated and if no justice done to these employees, may resort to industrial action on their own accord and will lead to adverse impact on the aviation industry,” said Suryakant Mahadik, President of Bharatiya Kamgar Sena, in a letter to the senior Union Ministers.
“Over the last few months all of us are silent spectators of the suffering of Jet Airways employees. All of them have not been paid their salaries by M/s Jet Airways for 2 to 6 months,” the letter read.
At present, the fate of the airline formed on May 5, 1993 hangs in balance, as domestic lenders have called for binding bids from potential investors by May 10 to sell a sizeable stake in the company.
There was no immediate comment from SBI.
The SBI will have a lot of explaining to do in the Supreme Court.