The Indian government is moving ahead with plans to exit the struggling national carrier. But the approaching newest round of attempts to sell Air India appears to be causing internal tensions. Following en masse resignation of Airbus A320 pilots over salary, the airline’s management held talks with unions, appearing not only concerned about job security, but overall skeptical about the newest government disinvestment attempt.

120 Air India A320 pilots quit jobs

About 120 Air India Airbus A320 pilots have collectively resigned after management refused their salary and promotion demands, the country’s media agency ANI reported on October 13, 2019. One pilot told the publication that the Indian airline hired pilots on a five years contract at a lower wage; pilots’ expectations to receive wage rises and promotions as experience increased did not come true. 

The pilots are confident they would find jobs elsewhere, ANI writes, while Air India expects the mass resignation to cause no negative impact to its operations, as it employs around 2000 pilots. The alleged loss of 6% of its pilots is far from being the only problem Air India has with its employees. The unions are concerned that the planned privatization of the airline would result in massive job cuts. 

Union skepticism

For instance, the largest union of Air India employees, the Air Corporation Employees Union (ACEU), has said it would launch a “united struggle” against the privatization of the airline, warning that the government’s intentions would have“disastrous consequences” for the country's civil aviation sector and the interest of the nation. 

On October 14, 2019, the airline’s management held a meeting with employee representatives to discuss the privatization. During the meeting, unions, among other things, also demanded for a shorter notice period from six to one month, the Economic Times reported

The last time that the Indian government tried to privatize the financially troubled carrier was in the spring of 2018. On March 28, 2018, the Indian government announced the intention to sell 76% of Air India shares. However, the offer failed to attract a suitable bidder, leaving the national carrier at the government’s hands. Now, the idea of privatization is being revived again and this time reports indicate that the government would be willing to give up its whole 100% stake or even drop the condition for a potential buyer to keep Air India’s name. The official announcement is expected in early November 2019.