Starting from February 20, almost 10,000 employees of Airports Authority of India (AAI) will go on an indefinite strike in protest against the proposed privatisation of six airports, under the banner of Airports Authority Employees Union (AAEU). The proposal to privatize the airports, which are Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Lucknow, Guwahati, Thiruvananthapuram, and Mangaluru, was approved by the government in November 2018.
Several protests were organized by AAEU in the month of December, at various airports across the country, against the proposal to run six profit-making airports under public-private partnership. The union has claimed that the privatization will lead to exploitation of workers, as the staff will be hired only on contractual basis.
Balraj Singh Ahlawat, the General Secretary of AAEU, had previously told NewsClick, “The AAI-managed airports have reservations for people from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, which provides them with opportunities for work. However, after privatization, staff will be hired only on contractual basis. And these contractual staff will be exploited by the private operators. We have seen this happen before.”
Ahlawat had also said that the most dangerous thing about this move was that GVK and GMR, the two private operators that run the airports that have been privatized already, will establish a monopoly over the sector, as they are likely to run the new ones too.
Centre of Trade Unions (CITU) wrote a letter to Suresh Prabhu, Minister of Civil Aviation on February 11, showing solidarity with the union’s decision to go on an indefinite strike, and condemning the decision taken by the government to privatize the airports.
The letter mentioned that these six airports have been modernized through huge investments from public exchequer under the supervision of the AAI, and they are in no way inferior to the airports at Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, and Bangalore, that are run by private operators. CITU has urged the minister to appreciate the gravity of the situation and intervene to stop the unfair privatization of the airports, to avoid giving rise to an industrial unrest.
“And now after modernizing these six airports with public money under AAI, handing them over to private hands through PPP route tantamount to an undue bonanza to private players at the cost of public exchequer, besides being totally unjust and extremely unfair which may please be taken note of,” reads the letter.
Talking to NewsClick, Ahlawat said, “We have already informed the management of the upcoming strike. However, there has been no satisfactory response from their side. They refused to have a dialogue with us. We will start our strike on February 20, and will continue it until the authorities are forced to give in to our demands.”