#Save Air India : The brand’s hidden liability

While discussions are on almost every day in the newspapers about Air India’s proposed disinvestment and how the various suitors like Jet and Indigo are falling through, no one may have estimated the might of the 11 unions inside Air India.

Air India was always unionized, one of the penalties of socialism and the public sector. Socialism in its truest sense was a cure for unemployment. Because the goal of socialist society is for everyone to work, to move everyone in the economy above the subsistence level.

Although in a major program to reduce staff in the current decade where Air India moved from 300 per aircraft to 108 in 2015, the Air India unions remained. Now the current sale of Air India naturally affects the livelihood of those employees. Jointly the unions have been holding lunchtime. protest meetings and raising their voice on social media that there is nothing in it for them if Air India is sold. And perhaps quite the opposite; because more people could lose their jobs. It would be foolish to underestimate the power of the unions. After they can bring the airline to a grinding halt, something they have managed several times during the long history of Air India.

Besides usual traditional forms of revolt like lunch meetings and wearing badges with #SaveAirIndia, the unions are also resorting to social media and blogging and spreading the messages through WhatsApp.

If the power of the unions is something that prospective buyers have so no far not inputted into the terms of the sale, they would be making a mistake. In other words, the prospective buyer better some experience of dealing with unions with a good understanding of collective bargaining.

This is not the first time the unions are threatening to put a stop to the proposed disinvestment. In 2017 the Air India unions had already written to the government. In a letter, they had said ” “We urge you not to accept the hurried recommendations by the NITI AYOG and not to force the employees of Air India to agitate which will lead to industrial unrest and disharmony,”

So the current uprising is only a continuation of the earlier protests but gaining ground as the deadline of May 14, 2018, for the expression of interest nears.

However, it needs to be seen in the context of prospective buyers being put-off by the irritation of handling unhappy employees. If it does put-off the prospective buyers sufficiently, the unions will succeed. So far the unions have been an intangible factor that does not take into account the brand value, the debt and other negatives of the purchase of the brand.

But it might well be the most potent factor for consideration in the sale of the brand Air India!

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Prabhakar Mundkur has spent 40 years in advertising and worked in India, Africa and Asia. He is currently Chief Mentor with HGS Interactive a part of HGS in the Hinduja Group. He is on the advisory board of Sol 's Arc (solsarc.org ) an NGO dedicated to special education for intellectually challenged children. He is also a member of Whiteboard ( whiteboardindia.org ) which supports senior management of NGOs in financial management, PR, Communication and HR through pro bono expertise.


  1. What is the alternative? When analyzing any issue, one normally concludes with a solution.
    My solution: Ask all these Unions to select their representatives in proportion to their strength to be elected to the Board
    and assign them the task of turning Air India round in five years time, without any subsidy from the Govt.

    1. That was the story of HTA. When HTA collapsed in 1974 the employees took it over. 40% went to non-management staff which formed a union. 60% went to management. It became an employee-owned company and delivered regular dividends of over 100% for several decades until it was bought over by WPP

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