Air India management can alter policy for workmen: Apex court

"In our view, the management of Air India was always entitled to alter its policies with regards to their workmen, subject to the consensus arrived at between the parties in supersession of all previous agreements," said a bench of Justice Altamas Kabir and Justice Cyriac Joseph.

Speaking for the bench, Justice Kabir said: "We are unable to accept ... that those workmen who had been promoted to the executive category would continue to be governed by the settlement arrived at when they were workmen and were represented by the (Air India Cabin Crew) Association."

The apex court's Friday ruling came as it declined to interfere with a Delhi High Court verdict of Oct 8, 2007, dismissing the petition by the Air India Cabin Crew Association challenging the decision by which their service conditions were altered.

"It is, in fact, the prerogative of the management to place an employee in a position where he would be able to contribute the most to the company," the apex court judgment said.

Having said this, the court declared that Air India "was at liberty to adopt the revised promotion policy which was intended to benefit all the employees".

The issue before the court was whether the airline's management was entitled to alter the service conditions of flight pursers and air hostesses, despite several bilateral agreements between Air India management and its workmen represented by the Air
India Cabin Crew Association, and the executive cadre of in-flight pursers and air hostesses.

The apex court said: "In our view, once an employee is placed in the executive cadre, he ceases to be a workman and also ceases to be governed by settlements arrived at between the management and the workmen through the concerned trade union."

It is not a question of an attempt made by such employees to wriggle out of the settlements which had been arrived at prior to their elevation to the executive cadre, which, by operation of law, cease to have any binding force on the employee so promoted by the management, the judgment said.

The other question before the apex court was regard to the merger of cabin crew effected in 1996, giving rise to the other disputed questions relating to interchangeability of duties between flight pursers and air hostesses.

A further question that arises is whether in the circumstances indicated, a policy decision of gender neutralization, which was prospective in nature, could be applied retrospectively to the pre-1997 cadre of pursers and would it be arbitrary and contrary to the provisions of Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution.

On these issues, the apex court said that it was more concerned with the decision taken in terms of Section 9 of the 1994 Act, to bring about a parity in the service conditions of both flight pursers and air hostesses, both at the level of workmen and also the executive cadre.

While the agreements are not altered or vary to any large extent, what has been done is to iron out the differences on account of the revised promotion policy, which exempted some of the workmen, who had been transformed to the category of executive from the ambit of the said settlements, said the court.

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