New Delhi: Amid the ongoing COVID pandemic which has hit the aviation sector hard, Air India is now planning to identify the “redundant” or “surplus” employees who would be asked to go on a compulsory leave without pay (LWP) for up to five years. For the same, a committee has also been formed by the national carrier’s northern regional office. An official order in this regard was issued on Tuesday. This comes at a time when Air India had already said the employees can voluntarily opt for the LWP scheme too. Also Read - Cake Surprise: Cow Dung Cakes Found in Indian Passenger's Baggage at US Airport, Destroyed

In an internal order issued by Air India on July 14, it asked its departmental heads and regional directors to identify the employees, based on various factors such as efficiency, health and redundancy, who will be sent on a compulsory LWP for up to five years. Also Read - We Will Stop Work: Air India Pilot Union Demands Vaccination of Crew on Priority

P S Negi, Regional Director (RD), Northern Region, Air India, issued an order on July 21, stating that following the July 14 order, an empowered committee is being constituted for the identification of “redundant/surplus manpower resources”. Also Read - 30 People on Air India Flight to Rome Test COVID-19 Positive on Arrival

Negi’s order, which has been accessed by PTI, said the general manager (personnel), general manager (finance) and departmental heads will be the members of the empowered committee.

It also said a representative of the RD can be co-opted in the committee, if required, on the basis of “case merit”.

“GM (Personnel) will share the staff list with all departments and convene the discussions/deliberations, including the process of identification of surplus/redundant resources. The report is to be submitted to the RD office by 11th August, 2020, for a review and onward recommendation to the headquarters,” the order said.

The aviation sector has been significantly impacted due to the travel restrictions imposed in India and other countries in view of the COVID-19 pandemic. All airlines in the country have gone for cost-cutting measures such as pay cuts, LWP and firing of employees in order to conserve cash flow.

Air India has four regional offices — one each for the northern, western, eastern and southern regions. It is not clear if the other three offices, barring the one for the northern region, has formed such panels to identify redundant employees.

In its July 14 order, Air India had asked its regional directors to constitute a committee each comprising the general manager (personnel), general manager (finance) and departmental heads concerned to “streamline the process of identification of redundant manpower, who would be told to proceed on compulsory LWP”.

The airline had said these panels would go through the records, based on factors such as suitability, efficiency, competence and health, and select the employees whose names will be forwarded, along with the RD’s recommendations, to get the approval of the chairman and managing director for sending them on a compulsory LWP.

Air India has a debt of around Rs 70,000 crore and the government had started the process to sell it to a private entity in January. The national carrier’s net loss in 2018-19 was pegged at around Rs 8,500 crore.

Equity infusion of Rs 500-600 crore every year is not sustainable and cost-cutting is necessary in Air India, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri had said on July 16, justifying the national carrier’s decision to send certain employees on LWP for up to five years.

On July 17, Air India had said its financial situation is very challenging due to the coronavirus pandemic and the LWP scheme for its employees is a “win-win” situation for them as well as the management. The employees’ unions of the airline have opposed the scheme.

(With agency inputs)