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The Right To Form A Trade Union -
The Jet Airways Strike

By Girish Menon

10 September, 2009

One of the main issues that has got sidetracked in the Jet Airways versus its own pilots controversy is whether pilots of Jet Airways have a right to form a trade union.

In the Hindustan Times of date, Mr. Naresh Goyal the Jet Airways chief likened his pilots' actions to terrorists "who are holding the country, the passengers and the airline hostage". Surely Mr. Goyal, forming a trade union and insisting on collective bargaining are not akin to the acts of a terrorist!

This Jet Airways confrontation will be a litmus test for corporate India's campaign to water down the labour laws of the land and to ensure that workers have no collective bargaining rights in a 'globalised' world. Jet Airways have been surreptitiously shedding staff in many other departments during 2009, despite Mr. Goyal's tears of retribution during Diwali 2008, after his airline with one fell swoop made hundreds of cabin crew redundant.

Airline pilots in India are probably the only group of individuals who have the might to confront the unbridled corporate and governmental reach of the Jet airways management. These pilots, scions of political bigwigs, have the economic wherewithal to sitout a lock out as well as the political network to counter the political machinations of Naresh Goyal.

The result of this battle will define the future of industrial relations in 'modern and globalised' India. If Naresh Goyal wins, then it will be difficult for any economically weaker section of employees to obtain the right to form a trade union and if necessary to go on strike. If the pilots win, then it will only be a minor reprieve for this well off section of workers. What will follow will be a furore in the Indian media, led by the pink newspapers, to improve the Indian labour markets so that Indian companies can get a 'global edge' (read weakening of labour laws).

You have been warned. Workers of India, you have nothing to gain except more working hours and less rights to industrial action.

The writer is a teacher of economics and lives in Cambridge, UK.


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