Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
In recent years, the aviation industry in India has witnessed tremendous growth, resulting in increased demand for skilled pilots and engineers. However, concerns have been raised about how airlines are leveraging employment bonds and agreements to jeopardize the careers of young professionals. These bonds, which often come with stringent conditions and hefty penalties, have become a contentious issue, raising questions about fairness and exploitation in the industry. This article will delve into the negative impact of employment bonds and agreements on young pilots and engineers in India.
The Unscrupulous Practice:
Many airlines in India require budding pilots and engineers to sign employment bonds as part of their recruitment process. These bonds typically bind the employees to the airline for a specified period, ranging from 3 to 5 years. While such agreements may appear reasonable at first glance, they often come with unfair clauses that hold professionals captive with little to no control over their careers.
Bond Conditions & Consequences:
One of the most contentious aspects of these employment bonds is the financial penalty attached to breaking the agreement. Airlines impose exorbitant fees on employees who choose to leave before the specified period. These penalties, ranging from INR 15 to 25 lakhs, can be crippling for young professionals who have already invested significant amounts in their training and education.
Furthermore, the airlines often implement one-sided terms that give them the power to unilaterally extend the bond period. This manipulative practice effectively traps skilled professionals within a company, restricting their options for career growth and advancement. This lack of mobility and opportunity for professional development stifles innovation and creates an environment of exploitation.
In this fight to retain employees, the companies keep innovating new clauses and terms and conditions, to pin down it’s trained manpower. In the case of a Delhi based MRO, the practice is that the individual engineers being sent for a Type Training Course in India or abroad, costing anywhere between 10 to 20 Lacs, are made to take a loan on their own names. The amount is then transferred to the Company which then starts paying the EMI’s after getting a 3 to 5 year bond signed by the Employee. The fairness here goes for a toss as the Company has the liberty to kick out the employee or simply shut shop due to whatsoever reason, while the unfortunate individual will then have to fend for his loan with no recourse to any compensation or guarantee.
In some cases where the Employee dares to breach the contract and tries to join another company, then in addition to the legal recourse that the companies have, the latter often tend to resort to unfair means to harass the individual. In one such instance, the owner of a Gurgaon based NSOP got irked as one of it’s Pilot, Mr Sidharth (name changed) joined another Delhi based company. In order to victimize the Pilot, the NSOP wrote to the BCAS claiming that the Employee has left the company without surrendering his Biometric Airport Entry Pass (BAEP) even though this was not true. BCAS in turn, in it’s own wisdom wrote to the new employer citing the previous owner’s mail and asking the new owner to freeze the employment, thereby harassing the individual to the hilt
As a result of these Employment bonds and agreements, many complaints and grievances by aviation professionals keep surfacing from time to time. While most go unnoticed and are left to the individuals and their companies to sort out, there are only few that come into the glare and get blown up. An example of this could be seen as reflected in this tweet by Yeshwanth.
Devastating Impact on Careers:
The consequences of these unfair bonds are far-reaching and devastating for young pilots and engineers. Firstly, it restricts their ability to switch jobs or explore better opportunities, limiting their career growth and financial stability. Moreover, stagnation in a single organization may lead to skill degradation in an industry where continuous learning and improvement are essential.
The bonds also disproportionately impact those who have taken loans for their training. Young professionals find themselves in a catch-22 situation, unable to switch jobs to better their financial prospects and still burdened with the financial obligations from their training loans. This misguided practice undermines the faith and trust that young professionals place in the industry.
Challenging the Unfair System:
There have been increasing calls to reform this exploitative system. Aviation bodies, professional associations, and lawmakers have been urging airlines to review their employment bonds and agreements to make them more equitable.
In the same context, a complaint was filed with DGCA by Spice Jet Ltd citing non adherence to Notice periods by Pilots resigning and leaving the Company. The Airlines termed it as serious breach of CAR Section 7, Series X, Part II wherein the guidelines for serving the notice period have been mentioned.
DGCA dismissed the complaint, on the grounds of it being sub judice before the High Court of Delhi vide Writ Petition W.P.(C)12387/2009 and CM No’s 12813/200925575/2017 filed by the Society for Welfare of Indian Pilots v/s UOI and Ors. Additionally, it was cited that the Delhi High Court vide it’s Interim Order dated 25 July 2018, had restrained the DGCA to not take any coercive steps subject to concern of parties complying with the terms of the contract entered between the pilots and the airlines during the pendency of the writ petition. A copy of the Order is placed here:
Several other legal challenges keep getting filed by aggrieved pilots and engineers, seeking to address the issue and create a fairer environment for young pilots and engineers.
The Way Forward:
To create a sustainable and nurturing environment for young professionals, airlines in India need to adopt fairer practices. Employment bonds should be revised to strike a balance between retaining skilled employees and ensuring their career growth. Reasonable exit clauses, fair financial penalties, and transparent policies regarding bond extensions would provide much-needed relief to young pilots and engineers.
Furthermore, government intervention might be necessary to regulate the employment practices of airlines. Establishing guidelines that protect the rights of young professionals and limit the exploitative nature of employment bonds would create a healthier and more trusting environment within the industry.
The exploitative use of employment bonds and agreements by airlines in India has had a detrimental impact on the careers of young pilots and engineers. The stringent conditions, huge financial penalties, and lack of mobility have left many feeling trapped and exploited. It is crucial for industry stakeholders, policymakers, and regulatory bodies to work together to address this issue and ensure a fair and supportive environment for the professionals who power India’s aviation industry.
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