At least 250 casual workers of Air India on Friday moved the Bombay High Court seeking directions to the government-run airline to provide them work, PTI reported. The workers argued that the coronavirus-induced lockdown has rendered them unemployed and deprived them of wages. Justices RD Dhanuka and VG Bisht issued a notice and directed the national carrier to respond within two weeks.

The application was filed by at least 250 casual workers employed by Air India at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport in Mumbai. It was filed through senior counsel Gayatri Singh and advocate Mini Mathur.

The petitioners contended that most of the casual workers were from economically weaker sections of society and therefore, are dependent on daily wages from the airline. As per the plea, the casual workers employed by the airline are allowed to work for a maximum of 240 days a year and are paid Rs 535 for each day of the services rendered by them.

Their job role is fixed on a rotational basis as catering assistants, baggage handlers, security scanners and bus drivers. Many of them have been working with the airline for the last 25 to 30 years, the plea said. However, most of them have not been called back after the airline resumed services in May, even as permanent employees and those hired on a contractual basis were given work, the plea claimed. “The lockdown period has wrecked devastation,” the plea added. “The casual workers are in desperate need of work and wages.”

The workers demanded they be given work and unpaid wages that have been due since March. They have also demanded transport facilities to commute to work and asked for health safety measures similar to those provided to permanent workers.

Air India has more than 13,000 permanent employees, giving it a monthly wage bill of over Rs 230 crore. The airline, which has been going through a financial crisis, has been further hit due to coronavirus-induced restrictions. The Indian government banned all flights, domestic and international, in the end of March. Only some domestic flights were restarted on May 25.

Leave without pay for up to five years

On Tuesday, the national carrier began the process of sending some under-performing employees on compulsory leave without pay for up to a period of five years. The airline’s board of directors has authorised Chairperson Rajiv Bansal to send employees on leave for a period ranging from six months to two years, which may be extended to five years, an official order said.

When picking employees who will be sent on leave without pay, the airline management will consider factors such as the individual’s efficiency, competence, quality of performance, health, instances in the past when the person has been unavailable for duty because of ill health and whether the role is redundant, the order said.

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