| Ram Jethmalani with Maldeep Sidhu at a news conference in Delhi on Monday. (PTI)
New Delhi, Aug. 4: The Air-India Air Hostesses’ Union is going to seek a review of the Supreme Court judgment grounding air hostesses when they reach 50 years of age.
The apex court had last month overturned a Bombay High Court directive of 2001 ordering parity of service for Air-India women cabin crew with their male colleagues who are allowed to fly till the age of 58. Air hostesses in Indian Airlines are allowed to fly till they are 58.
The Air-India management and the Centre challenged the order in the Supreme Court which then set aside the high court directive and ordered that air hostesses, once they cross 50, should only be assigned ground duties. “This is blatant gender discrimination,” said Maldeep Sidhu, a former Air-India air hostess and now a practising lawyer.
Former Union law minister Ram Jethmalani, who had argued the case on behalf of the air hostesses in the apex court last week, met civil aviation minister Rajiv Pratap Rudi to urge the government to intervene in the matter.
“The minister heard us patiently. I have great faith in him,” said Jethmalani. He maintained the judgment was full of factual errors and added that hope for the air hostesses rests with the government as the Supreme Court rarely admits a review petition.
Air-India has 753 air hostesses and as many as 600 have put their signatures on a petition protesting the Supreme Court order. “The signatories are from all age groups — between 29 and 50,” said Sidhu.
The apex court judgment has a string of negative implications for the 50-plus air hostesses. Their earnings will be reduced by 75 per cent as they will not be paid flight allowances and, as such, their salaries can crash from Rs 50,000 to Rs 15,000.
Besides, more often than not, air hostesses are given shabby ground duties, claims Sidhu. “The practice usually is to assign them duties in overstaffed departments. They are never given positions commensurate with their designations,” she claimed. The Air-India Air Hostesses’ Union contends that grounded air hostesses have the experience the young lack.
The union alleges a strong male bias in the management and says it is inevitably a male cabin-crew member who becomes the cabin supervisor. “Women never make it,” said Sidhu. The air hostesses do not have the support of their male colleagues in their fight against the Supreme Court judgment.
The air hostesses, according to Sidhu, have much less options of taking up other jobs as most of them are not trained for anything else. “They do not have any other qualification they can fall back on. They just want to keep working as long as they can,” she said.
Their fight against various forms of discrimination has been going on since the seventie4s. In 1989, then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had sought a review of the rules that discriminate between Air-India’s male and female cabin-crew members. Later that year, the Lok Sabha petitions committee urged the government to remove service disparities between male and female crew members.