New Delhi: At a time when governments across the globe are ensuring financial measures to support businesses and individuals in their respective countries, the story coming from the Airports Authority of India (AAI) is a bit disheartening. The AAI management is mulling cutting or deferring salaries of employees to get over the financial crisis caused by the pandemic, the Joint Forum of Unions and Associations of AAI has said in a letter written to Hardeep Singh, Minister of Civil Aviation. "It is quite startling to note that management is mulling a proposal to cut/defer salaries of its employees despite a stiff resistance by all associations and unions," wrote the forum. In the backdrop of the proposal for salary cuts, the AAI unions and associations have also requested the minister to review the decision to lease more AAI airports on public-private partnership (PPP) basis. They have claimed that private airport operators for airports that have been privatised owe large dues to AAI and have stopped sharing revenue in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.
"Legal cases have been filed by private players like DIAL/MIAL and they have stopped revenue sharing, seriously impacting working capital of AAI. Moreover, dues of airlines are also mounting with Air India leading the charge… The pandemic has proved that private players are neither willing to share their revenue in legitimate way during good times and nor willing to run the business when they are not adequately paid off," said the forum in the letter.
"There are over 17,000 employees in AAI who have been performing duties even in these challenging times 24×7 to provide safe operation of flights so as to enable timely transportation of vaccine life-saving drugs medical oxygen passengers etc" wrote the forum expressing surprise over the AAI management's thought process. "Any further reduction of salary will adversely affect the financial survival of employees particularly during the time of double-digit real but unauthenticated inflation in consumer price index," added the letter.
The employees' forum said that to get over the unprecedented crisis, the government should consider implementing Section 23 of the Airports Authority of India Act 1994, which makes a case for additional capital and grant to AAI by the Central government. Instead of salary deduction, the employees' forum suggested a set of nine measures to put AAI back on track. This includes revision of airport charges, levying COVID cess, revision of AERA regulated charges like landing charges, users fee etc, government grant for capex borrowing, putting a cap on capex for now, issuance of bonds for short term fund requirement, recovery of dues from private operators and airlines, profit sharing of Hyderabad and Bangalore airports etc.
"As per concessionaire agreement with M/s Adani Enterprises limited shall be liable to pay to the authority all such amounts as may have been incurred by the authority for the work in progress. It is learnt that the Adani Enterprises has not deposited dues worth Rs 2,000 crore, including GST, after handing over of three airports. While payment has not been made by the private operator, charges have been increased multiple times. If the amount is not given immediately, then strict action should be initiated against the concessionaire like forfeiture of performance security and ultimately cancellation of the contract. Also, handing over of three airports should be put on hold and further process of PPP may be reviewed," the letter said.
The joint forum said that AAI has lost many employees and their families members to this pandemic, and instead of helping them, the AAI management is contemplating cutting their salaries. "Most of the employees have taken a home loan, car loan, education loan and personal loan for the treatment of their family etc. Reduction in the salaries of employees will lead to mental distress and trauma among employees who have given their blood and soul for the organisation to reach this level," the forum wrote.