Mumbai: A day after India's top two private sector airlines announced massive job cuts, involving around 2,000 employees, state-run Air-India today said it was open to letting as many as 15,000 of its staff go on leave without pay for 3-5 years, but on a purely voluntary basis.
''We are planning to offer leave without pay for three to five years. We can consider it for about 15,000 employees,'' reports quoted Air-India CMD Raghu Menon as saying.
The announcement also comes close on the heels of civil aviation minister Praful Patel's statement on Wednesday ruling out any pruning of staff strength by state-run airlines.
The minister, in fact, had announced plans to infuse Rs1,000-1,500 crore capital into the state-run airline.
Air-India, which employs around 25,000 people, said those who take up the offer to go on leave would be taken back if they so desire, but at their last drawn pay levels.
The National Aviation Company of India Ltd, the holding company for the two state-run airlines – Air-India and Indian Airlines – also clarified that the measure was purely temporary.
The Air-India board is expected to discuss the proposal before giving a go-ahead for the `leave-without-salary' scheme.
Civil aviation minister Praful Patel, refused to term the Air-India move as job cut. ''Certainly, it will affect the growth plans, it will affect the future employment opportunities which would have come the way of Air-India in case the aviation industry was in a much better financial health," Patel said.
The changes in fortune was quick to come for the Asian air travel industry which until last year was talking of a revolution in the air. Only a few months ago airlines had problem finding enough pilots to fly their planes, but they are now offloading staff en masse.
Sworn rivals Jet Airways and Kingfisher Airlines, who controlled 60 per cent of India's domestic market, have decided to work together ''in the larger national interest and to help stabilise India's aviation sector.''
Jet and Kingfisher plans to combine fuel management, ground handling, ticketing and crew sharing. The two will also discuss route sharing, but denied any cartelisation plan.
Already hit by high costs and low demand, the global financial meltdown and the subsequent economic slump has come as the last straw for the ailing airlines.
Domestic air travel in India, which grew at an annual rate of 38 per cent a year earlier, has grown by a marginal 2.3 per cent in April-August this year.