Allege that they have been given a Hobson's choice

The 82 Air India Air Transport Services Ltd. (AIATSL) personnel at the international airport here are a worried lot. With Air India SATS Airports Services Private Ltd. (AISATS), a joint venture between Air India and Singapore Airport Terminal Services, taking up ground-handling services, they say their lives have taken a turn for the worse.

Most of them are in their late thirties and have been working on contract as customer agents, security agents, or ramp service agents for the past six years. The breadwinners in their families, they fear they would lose their jobs.

Air India has asked them to resign and join the new venture with salary protection; or seek a transfer to a station of their choice where ground-handling is still with the old subsidiary; or take a transfer to the security wing without salary protection. They, however, have got a respite from giving the option now, as the airline's director board has decided to seek a report on the implications.

It they choose the first option, the employees say, they will have to work under juniors.

As AIATSL does not undertake ground-handling at the Cochin and the Karipur airports, those taking the second option will have to move out of the State.

The staff allege that the new venture does not follow any recruitment norms. The old subsidiary is recruiting personnel in other States when the contract staff has been given the option to join it, they add.

‘Loyalty not considered'

“At least, they should have considered our experience and loyalty to the national carrier,” an employee says.

“We never expected the airline to adopt such an attitude towards to us. We will have to work under juniors or for lower salaries. We do not know how to make ends meet,” says another.

Many of them started on a consolidated pay of Rs.8,000 a month in 2005 and are now into their second contract, drawing Rs.12,000-15,000. They have to put in 48 hours of work a week, including night shifts from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

“There has always been discrimination from the authorities as we were not given training in load sheet and were kept away from the job of service controller,” an employee says.

The overtime allowance of Rs.40 an hour has not been revised since 2005. Food or transport allowance is not paid, and the uniform is worn out, another says.

Last year, a woman employee waiting at the bus stop near the airport after 10 p.m. was attacked and had to resign over the alleged silence of the management.

They demand that the AIATSL be given the ground-handing services for Air India and Air India Express flights using the existing equipment or they be deputed to the commercial wing of AISATS. Air India Express, which has shifted its headquarters to Kochi, should give priority to them in recruitments.

Air India generates Rs.43 crore a year from ground-handling at the Thiruvananthapuram station.

Except for a shortage of staff and lack of modern equipment, the service did not have problems. The equipment had not been properly maintained or replaced.