Jet staff cries foul after pink slips to 850


New Delhi/Mumbai : Agitated employees of Jet Airways cried foul Wednesday after the services of 850 staff were terminated, following a strategic and operational alliance with rival Kingfisher Airlines. The airline said 1,900 jobs were on the block.

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In Mumbai, hundreds of retrenched staff, including pilots, cabin crew and ground staff, even knocked on the doors of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray, seeking his intervention in the matter.

Many of them were seen weeping outside Thackeray’s residence at Shivaji Park, saying they were the only breadwinners and that their families would now be reduced to starvation.

“What the hell do they think of themselves? No prior warning, no notice!” screamed a member of the airline’s airport staff, who alleged that her services were terminated with just a short message (SMS) on mobile phone.

Another, still wearing the airline’s bright yellow uniform, said reports that they were given a month’s notice were without basis and that no one from the management had bothered to talk to them.

In Mumbai, Jet executive director Saroj Dutta said altogether 1,900 employees would be given the pink slip.

“It is an attempt to save the company, to save the employees,” Dutta told reporters, adding: “There is nothing unusual about our move. It is just that it was sudden.”

During the day, the MNS party threatened to ground Jet Airways in Maharashtra if the carrier did not reinstate the retrenched employees.

Party chief Thackeray’s representatives will meet the Jet management Thursday to discuss the issue, a party spokesperson said.

Jet’s decision on retrenchment came after it jointly announced a code-sharing and operational alliance with Kingfisher Airlines late Tuesday in a bid to cut costs and remain in the black with shared ground handling, flight crew and training of crew.

Speaking to reporters in Hyderabad at the ongoing air show, Jet Airways founder Naresh Goyal denied that his airline had laid off permanent employees or was going to do that.

“The people laid off were probationary employees and there will be no retrenchment of permanent employees,” he said, adding: “Our employees are our family and we will take care of all of them.”

The airline also issued a statement saying the airline had been watching the situation for some time in the hope that it may turn around, but had reached a stage at which some hard decisions are inevitable.

“As a consequence, personnel hired for the expansion, probationers and unconfirmed personnel – who have been recently hired – will have to be released,” the airline said.

“As a first step, around 800 flight attendants, recently recruited for the planned expansion programme, which has now been suspended, have been released. We are in the process of releasing personnel in other categories also.”

The airline said the $6 billion Indian aviation industry was expected to lose $2 billion in 2008-09, with operations affected by high fuel prices, downturn in traffic and the global financial crisis.

Jet and Kingfisher, along with their acquired airlines, have a combined strength of 19,000 employees, a fleet of 189 aircraft serving 1,009 daily flights, of which 82 are on international routes.

According to industry sources, this is the third time in recent months that Jet has cut its workforce. Some 1,200 employees were given the pink slip after the carrier acquired Air Sahara last year followed by a separation pact with another 700 a couple of months ago.

Kingfisher, too, had initiated similar moves, albeit at a much truncated level.