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Dowdy ‘matron’ in sky goes in for facelift

Oct. 23: Air-India is shaking off its dowdy, matronly image. The national airline has started the process of recruiting 300 airhostesses and ground duty staff on a fixed-term contract for three years.

The latest spell of recruitments — made possible by a Supreme Court ruling last year that paved the way for a hire-and-fire policy for contract labour — will be completed early next year.

The airline currently has about 800 airhostesses and 400 flight pursers.

This is the first fixed-term contract recruitment since the Supreme Court’s judgment, which upheld Air-India’s decision to deny cadre absorption of contract labour.

“The whole issue has been studied in great detail and looking at the company’s interest, action has been initiated,” said Jitendra Bhargava, an airline spokesperson.

Air-India has set an age limit of 18 to 23 for the young cabin crew and ground hostess recruits with the upper age limit relaxable by up to 5 years for SC/ST and 3 years for OBC candidates.

In one of the biggest recruitment drives by the airline in a long time, Air-India will recruit 151 in the general category. Eighty-one posts will be reserved for OBCs, 45 for SCs and 23 for STs.

According to Air-India officials, the average fixed-term contract announced by the airline mirrors that of other airlines like Singapore Airlines.

The candidates will have to have normal eyesight (i.e. without correction by glasses or contact lenses) and fluent in English and one or more Indian languages. Preference will be given to applicants who are conversant in French, German and Japanese.

Air-India has a history of legal battles with its airhostess union over its retirement policy. Until 1970, airhostesses had to retire at 30 or when they got married, whichever was earlier. In March 1990, the retirement age of airhostesses was brought at par with their male counterparts — 58 years — but they were permitted flying duties only up to 35 years of age extendable up to 45 years, subject to their medical fitness for flying duties.

Subsequently, all cabin crew recruited after March 1996 were allowed flying duties till the age of 50 years subject to their medical fitness again every year after 45 years of age.

Last August, Bombay High Court ruled that the airhostesses of Air-India should be allowed to fly till the age of 58.

This pinned the “matrons in the sky” tag on the airline, which has been struggling to hold its own against young and energetic airlines like Singapore Airlines where hostesses work on fixed five-year contracts.

By setting three-year contracts, Air-India is trying to ensure a regular rollover of its cabin crew and ground duty staff like all major airlines.

After the high court’s judgment, which marked another milestone in the long-running triangular battle between the Air-India management, the Cabin Crew Association and the Airhostesses Association, three doctors — Dr Chakraborty, R.R. Rahate and L.P. Nakhwa — compiled and reviewed data for the year 2000 to determine the health status of Air-India’s airhostesses.

“The results of the review helped in early detection of common ailments like hypertension, obesity and helped in prevention of long-term complications. We plan to update the data annually as an ongoing project,” says an abstract of the report posted on the Net.

Air-India has recorded a profit of Rs 15.44 crore in the financial year ending March 31, 2002, as against a net loss of Rs 44.40 crore in the previous year. Its total revenues during the year under review was pegged at Rs 5,032.94 crore.

The national air carrier carried 3.13 million passengers with a passenger load factor of 66.6 per cent and overall load factor of 60.8 per cent.

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