Oct 17, 2008
Chechi, satyam paranchal valare veshamathilanu. Graduation nirthittu jolikku vanatha (Didi, I truly am in deep trouble. I didn’t even complete my graduation before I joined here). That was the first reaction I got from a Malayali Jet cabin crew member I met outside Raj Thackeray’s residence in Mumbai. Jet had just announced 800 lay offs and these confused youngsters had come to seek some help from Raj Thackeray whom some described as a ‘youth icon.’ As I stood talking to them, more horror stories followed.
“I don’t care about losing this job, I know I’ll get another. But it was just the way they terminated us. That hurts.” This was the most common refrain. There were reports of employees who were waiting for their pick up cabs, which never came. And when they called up the office, they were rudely told that they had been derostered until further notice. One of the girls I spoke to was at office and was completely ready to board her flight when she was called up and told she had been sacked. There was the boy who got his termination letter on his marriage day and the girl who got it on her birthday. Soon news started trickling in and anxious youngsters started calling up the airlines to ask the HR to check the list and tell them if they were on it. Home loans, education loans and all the money spent on grooming, all gone down the drains. It was a horrible end to a flying dream. All this time I was wondering what about all those ads that proclaim ‘Main alag thi kyunki main udana chahti thi.’ (I was different because I wanted to fly.’) What would they say now?
These youngsters realized the hard way that in a market economy, the employee is just a ‘cost to the company’. And more so because we live in a country where there is no support system in the form of an unemployment insurance. Technically these youngsters cannot challenge this decision in any court because their employment letters state that they could be terminated anytime while on probation, a fact which most of the youngsters tearfully agreed to. And that is why all they were asking was their deposit money back and salary till such time as they get another job. But the company said they couldn’t afford anything other than the deposit money and one month’s salary without benefits. That added salt to their wounds.
But what was shocking was how political parties jumped into the fray to take credit of becoming the champions of the retrenched. The Shiv Sena and the MNS tried their best to outdo each other in this hour of the employees grief. Each came up with promises eyed at the 2009 elections. What a brilliant strategy! They all knew that retrenchments are going to continue in the days to come and by jumping to the ‘rescue’ of these employees they have ensured that future retrenchments are also addressed to them. Wonder if Mr. Thackeray asked the largely non-Maharashtrian cabin crew members to explain their problems to him in Marathi. Its not certain how they might help the case of the employees, but what is certain is more stone pelting and other theatrics from both the parties. One of the most pertinent questions about the politics of it was however asked by one of our viewers on this website. He wondered where have the so-called champions of the labour force, the left parties, disappeared in this time of crisis.
While the 800 have already got their pink slips, there are many who are dreading theirs. There don’t seem to be any solutions in sight. And there are the rest of us from across industries who are wondering if their industry would be the next to cut costs!