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Jet Airways issues gag order over 20,000 employees, cautions talking to media will affect bidding process

FP Staff
The grounding of India's oldest private airline company sent shock waves among its 20,000-odd employees, of whom Jet Airways owes over three months salaries to 15 percent of the staff.

The management of  Jet Airways has reportedly asked thousands of its disgruntled employees to not speak to any outsider including their media about their problems as it may affect the bidding process for its stake sale, said media reports.

"We are currently at a critical stage of our bid process that is being led by our lenders. We urge you to refrain from engaging with the media and let the task of interaction with external stakeholders (especially the media) be restricted to our colleagues at corporate communication team," Hindustan Times reported citing an internal mail sent to the airline's employees late on Thursday.

The grounding of India's oldest private airline sent shock waves among its 20,000-odd employees. The beleagured airline owes over three months salary to 15 percent of its staff comprising of senior management, pilots and engineers. Besides them, the debt-laden airline has also defaulted on the March salary of its entire workforce, said a PTI report.

After weeks of uncertainty, Jet Airways had on Wednesday announced temporary suspension of its operations as it did not receive emergency funds to stay afloat.

Hinting at job losses going forward, grounded carrier Jet Airways chief executive Vinay Dube on Wednesday said the airline does not have an "answer" at present on the fate of its employees during the stake sale process, reported PTI.

"However, we must also be realistic that the sale process will take some time and will throw up several more challenges for us, many of which we don't have the answer today," Dube said in a communication to the harried employees who have not been paid since March.

"For example, we don't have an answer today to the very important question of what happens to employees during the sale process," he added.

Nevertheless, he said the leadership team is working on answering such questions alongside the lenders.

The consortium of lenders led by State Bank of India (SBI) has offered prospective bidders ownership of the airline anywhere between 31.2 percent and 75 for which it had run an online bidding process between 8 and 12 April and had shortlisted four suitors €" Etihad Airways, NIIF, private equity funds TPG Capital and Indigo Partners €" who can submit the final bids by 10 May.

Hundreds of staff protest in Delhi, Mumbai

Hundreds of angry employees have protested in New Delhi and Mumbai, accusing management of leaving staff in the dark about the airline's worsening crisis, reported Reuters.

"Management never gives us a clear picture," airline union leader Chaitanya Mainkar shouted during a protest at Mumbai's international airport on Friday where employees chanted slogans and waved posters that read "Save Jet Airways, Save Our Family."

Jet pilots had appealed for intervention from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is facing wider criticism over the scarcity of jobs as he campaigns for re-election in polls now underway. Last month, Modi asked state-run banks to rescue Jet Airways without pushing it into bankruptcy, averting thousands of job losses. But the airline never received the agreed stop-gap loan of about $217 million.

"At least now we know the talks about caring for employment, creating jobs is all an eyewash," Captain Asim Valiani, vice president of the National Aviator's Guild (NAG) representing Jet pilots, told Reuters after the shutdown.

Employees quitting airline

Jet Airways has lost key employees as the crisis unfolded. About 400 pilots have moved to other airlines, leaving Jet Airways with around 1,300 pilots, said a senior Jet pilot. About 40 engineers have also left, a senior engineer said.

Some veteran employees remain loyal to the airline and hope it can be restored to its former glory.

"I have worked here from the beginning - first day, first show," said Anil Sahu, a 50-year-old baggage handler with 25 years of service.

"Even after all of this, we have trust in Jet. It's a tsunami that has come, but we hope everything will return to normal," he said.

Other senior employees like Poojari say they will struggle to find work if the airline fails.

"If I had quit earlier there was still a chance of moving on, but after 26 years and having crossed 50 (years of age), where will I find a job?"

€" With inputs from agencies

Also See: Lessors rush to repossess 4 more Jet Airways' Boeing 737 planes, as debt-laden airline stares at shutdown

Fear of job loss grips thousands of Jet Airways employees after airline’s temporary shutdown

Jet Airways stake sale: Etihad, TPG Capital among five companies submit EoIs to acquire crisis-hit airline shares

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