Deadlock as HAL management, Unions refuse to back down

Members of All India HAL trade unions raise slogans as they stage a protest during their strike to demand for fair and early settlement of wage revision of employees, in Bengaluru. (PTI photo)

Thirty-eight years ago, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) joined five other public sector companies to launch a withering strike against the government in a bid to secure better wages. Now, history is repeating itself with HAL workers going on an indefinite strike to force demanding what what they say is a long overdue wage revision.

The strike, which began on Monday, has seen workers demand a 15% fitment increase and 35% perks - percentages on a par with executives.

In a press briefing by HAL on Tuesday morning, however, it became clear that there was a deadlock between workers and officers owing to the management’s belief it had already made its best offer to striking workers: a 11% fitment increase and 22% perks for scale one to 10 workmen and 20% perks for higher-class workmen.

“This is a substantial amount,” said V M Chamola (Director of Human Resources), claiming that over 16,000 workers are already getting in excess of Rs 5,000 thanks to a 2017 wage revision. However, documents released by the All India HAL Trade Unions Coordination Committee (AIHALTUCC) showed that nearly 13,000 workers had suffered a decline in wages since 2017. Workers in scales 5, 6, 7 and 8 were the worst affected, with their perks running into negative figures.

HAL maintains that future wage revisions are contingent on the company’s future sales - hinting that nothing is certain until defence contracts are inked. “The company must remain cost-competitive or we will not get orders,” said C B Ananthakrishnan, HAL’s Chief Financial Officer, adding that HAL’s labour costs amount to 24% even as the industry average hovers between 15 and 17%.

When asked if this meant that the company was considering downsizing staff, Ananthakrishnan said that the company was looking at outsourcing and increasing sales.

Both executives refused to say how much the strike was costing the company. Meanwhile, the AIHALTUCC has declared its intention to maintain the strike for as long as possible.

“We will not stop until our demands are met. The livelihoods of workers depends on it,” said Suryadeva Chandrasekar, chief convenor of AIHALTUCC. HAL’s management expressed confidence that workers will see reason and return to work, but appeared to have no contingency plan if the strike continued. “We will cross that bridge when we come to it,” Chamola said.

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