As the heat soared on Tuesday, the gathering outside the Rajiv Gandhi Bhawan thinned. A small group hung around, waiting to hear the outcome of a meeting their colleagues were having inside with officials of the Airports Authority of India. Having realised that the meeting was turning out to be drawn out, a few orange ice candies seemed like a good proposition to beat the heat. “Ice cream ka paisa bhi PF ke paise se de rahe hain (We are using our PF even to pay for ice cream),” Anup Kumar said, with a smile.
Kumar insisted that the remark, which appeared to have been made in jest, had not just an element of truth, “but was the truth”. An assistant engineer with the now grounded Jet Airways, Kumar is among the staffers of the airline who have withdrawn their PF to keep their families running.
The cash-strapped airline temporarily suspended all operations after it failed to receive the emergency funding it had sought. On Tuesday, around 400 staffers of the airline gathered outside the Ministry of Civil Aviation, urging the government to “expedite the process of emergency funding” for their “survival”.
“I have a four-year-old daughter. My wife is a homemaker. I don’t have any other source of income. How do we survive? It’s been five months already,” Kumar, working with Jet since 2004, said.
Many of those gathered, including Kumar, have applied elsewhere, but are having to turn down most offers. “With an experience of over 20 years, I used to draw a salary of over Rs 1 lakh. Now I am being offered a salary of Rs 30,000 and the profile of a technician. How can I accept a pay cut? Who will pay my home loan, car loan? I bought a house in 2011,” Manoj Raut, an engineering executive, said.
Raut said he is contemplating going back to Odisha, his home state. Saroj Rath (50), also from Odisha and employed as an engineering assistant with Jet since 1997, said he has not been able to pay his house rent for the last two months. “My son is in class VIII. For how long will we be able to survive on our savings? And where do we go looking for a job at this juncture of our career? We cannot afford to suffer such huge pay cuts,” Rath said.
Kumar said he has been running pillar to post for personal loans. “But no bank is willing to sanction any loan in the absence of pay slips, IT returns… and, of course, the overall situation of the company does not inspire confidence. The company has even stopped our mediclaim,” Kumar said.
During the meeting, a three-member delegation met joint secretary (Civil Aviation) S K Mishra and handed over a memorandum. “This is not merely an airline, it is an employment for some, a dream job for some, kids’ future for some, connecting with family or friends for some, business for some and the list is endless,” states the memorandum, signed by the president of the Jet Aircraft Maintenance Engineers Welfare Association, Ashish Mohanty.