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Partial lockout at Kingfisher

GROUNDED

Mumbai, Oct. 1: Kingfisher Airlines ordered a “partial lockout” till Thursday after striking employees forced the troubled carrier to suspend all flights earlier in the day.

The partial lockout was ordered after Sanjay Aggarwal, the airline’s chief executive, failed to reach an agreement with striking engineers who haven’t been paid salaries since March.

Aggarwal sent a letter to employees in which he said the management would review the situation on October 4 (Thursday) “or the day on which this illegal strike is called off, whichever is earlier”.

The letter said the partial lockout was precipitated by “a series of protracted and unabated incidents of violence, criminal intimidation, assault, wrongful restraint and other illegal acts” committed by a section of non-management engineering staff.

The letter said the “unnecessary and unprovoked” action by these workmen had led to a situation where the airline was unable to operate flights.

Lockouts — partial or otherwise — have rarely been seen in the airline industry. Strikes and flight suspension are pretty common, but the lockout of the loss-laden airline is unprecedented.

Reports indicated that the standoff between the management and the striking engineers remained unresolved after the airline officials told them that the company was not in a position to pay even a month’s salary.

The employees were apparently told that a meeting with chairman Vijay Mallya could not be arranged.

Around 30 of the 250 striking engineers from Kingfisher Airlines were at the meeting with Aggarwal at the airline’s office in Mumbai on Monday. The meeting was called by the CEO, nearly 24 hours after the engineers went on strike, in an attempt to restore normalcy after all 50 of the airline’s flights were cancelled.

Making an appeal to all employees to immediately restore normalcy and resume duties, a Kingfisher statement said the airline had more than sufficient number of staff to safely operate its current schedule of flights.

“It is internally ascertained that despite the fact that a vast majority of the staff are willing to co-operate and support the company in these turbulent times, they are not able to/not being allowed to report to work on account of acts of criminal intimidation by the said same class of recalcitrant employees,” the statement said.

Earlier in the day, aviation minister Ajit Singh had said in New Delhi that Kingfisher would not be allowed to operate flights unless the aircraft were declared fit either by its in-house or external engineers. The minister also warned that if the directorate general of civil aviation found that Kingfisher was not sticking to its schedule, or violating safety norms, action would be initiated.

Kingfisher Airlines owes more than Rs 7,000 crore to 17 banks. The airline hasn’t serviced these loans since January, creating a piquant situation for banks that have been forced to make provisions on the exposure. Last week, banks turned down a request for further accommodation, triggering the latest crisis.

Legal twist

Section 2(1) of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 defines a lockout to mean: “The temporary closing of employment or the suspension of work, or the refusal by an employer to continue to employ any number of the persons employed by him.”

Employers have used this in the past as a power weapon to cow agitating workers, but it has rarely been used in the airline industry.

In 1982, the act was amended to deny employers an unfettered right to close factories and throw their workers into an uncertain future. It introduced the word “temporary” into the schema, giving employers the right to shut factories for only a short period to allow tempers to cool down.

On July 22 this year, Maruti had declared an indefinite lockout at its Manesar plant after workers had gone on a rampage and killed a manager.

 
 
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