One year later, it’s a bumpy ride for ex-Jet employees

Jet Airways aircraft parked at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport in Mumbai.  

On April 17, 2019, long before the coronavirus held the nation in its vice-like grip, nearly 12,000 employees of Jet Airways were fighting a different battle for survival. That night, the last flight landed in Mumbai before operations were suspended, and the employees were worried about their salaries.

Most of the nearly 12,000 employees from that time are now employed elsewhere, but still haven’t received their dues from that time. The COVID-19 pandemic has dealt them a double blow: their current employers have cut their salaries.

Some of those who stayed back were a tad luckier.

Some stay, some leave

The airline had about 200 employees on its rolls on April 17, the first anniversary of suspension of operations. The employees are part of its Asset Preservation Team: 24 engineers and an almost equal number of staffers who maintain the remaining 12 aircraft.

Then there are those who are part of the security, finance, human resources, network planning and other teams. All these employees received their April salaries on the 16th, a few days later than usual. The salaries are paid by the consortium of banks through the resolution professional (RP) who is now the in-charge. They are being paid from last April as per fresh contracts signed with the RP. Money owed to them before April 17, 2019, is still due.

Pilots, engineers and mid-level staff who went on to join other Indian airlines are either on leave without pay due to COVID-19 or have received just a percentage of their salary.

Some have joined another Mumbai-based airline on a bond of ₹25 lakh for three years. Those who left before April 17, took a 20% cut in pay while those who quit after the date had to brave up to a 35% cut.

The pilots who formed the National Aviators Guild, have all joined foreign carriers, with a majority of Boeing 777 crew being absorbed by Korean Air and the Airbus 330 pilots moving to Colombo to join Sri Lankan Airlines.

Rahul Taneja, former chief people officer, Jet Airways participating in Life in Aviation, an online interaction organised by Live From a Lounge on Thursday, said the airline had managed to get 47 companies to hire its employees.

Mr. Taneja has vivid memories of the day operations were suspended. “I was at Siroya Centre, the airline headquarters. It was only after the suspension of service had been announced that the gravity of the situation struck me. I cried on the call,” Mr. Taneja recalled.

The airline union also has a record of close to 40 deaths of employees since it ceased to fly. “We know of around 40 deaths due to heart attacks and such. But there are deaths of family members due to stress and we don’t have a count of that,”Amit Kelkar, president, Jet Airways Maintenance Engineers Welfare Association said.

Grant Thornton’s Ashish Chhawchharia, the resolution professional appointed by Jet’s lenders, is working on getting these employees’ families their insurance, while provident fund amounts have been processed.

Hope stays alive

The fate of the airline too hangs in the balance. Even though 15 entities have shown interest in buying it over the past 12 months, not one has submitted a financial bid so far.

Some of the employees suspect that the interest is deliberately being stymied at the government level, with the added excuse of the COVID-19 pandemic, so banks can liquidate the airline, a source said.

Despite all the difficulties, not everyone is willing to give up on the airline. Nidhi Chaphekar, an airhostess with the airline who was injured at the Brussels Airport bombing in March 2016 said, “Jet is a brand that is still alive. The aircraft are being maintained. I am hopeful that it will fly.”

In the initial days, Ms. Chaphekar also provided support to many cabin crew from outside Mumbai. “A year later, there are many cases of people having sold their ornaments, liquidated deposits and even moved cities because education and paying installments is painful,” she said.

Nearly 4,000 employees who are still on the Jet Airways rolls have not landed jobs elsewhere, but wish to join the airline if it flies again.

Close to April 17, the number of calls from former employees went up, said Mr. Kelkar. “Jet Airways was good place to be in. Employees are emotional about it,” he said. Mr. Kelkar said, in the event that hiring does begin, preference would be given to those who have worked for the airline.

This is precisely the hope the former employees are hanging on to.

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Printable version | Feb 27, 2021 3:33:07 PM |

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