Page last updated at 18:31 GMT, Wednesday, 15 October 2008 19:31 UK

Shock of Indian airline job losses

By Prachi Pinglay
BBC News, Mumbai

Laid off Jet Airways staff
The dismissed staff say that they are shocked and disappointed

Kauzar Shaikh, 24, (name changed) and Geeta Sharma, 22, (name changed) are two of the 800 cabin crew of Jet Airways who have recently lost their jobs.

The airline on Wednesday confirmed the lay-off of 800 cabin crew and indicated a further lay-off taking the total to 1,900 people.

The affected crew were dressed in their bright yellow uniform, complete with elaborate make-up and perfect hair-dos.

They stood outside the company headquarters near Mumbai (Bombay) international airport all morning. Many were visibly shocked and embarrassed about coming out to protest.

'No notice'

As time went by desperation replaced shyness and the crowd got louder.

Then they came into central Mumbai to meet Raj Thackeray, the leader of Maharashtra Navnirmaan Sena. He is a politician who campaigns for employment for locals in the state.

When he said he supported their cause and "would not let a Jet flight take off tomorrow", they shouted and cheered him.

Laid off Jet Airways staff
Protesting staff say they face an uncertain future

As they watched Mr Thackeray make his pronouncements, Kauzar and Geeta - like every other flight attendant - complained that they were not given sufficient notice about the lay-off.

They repeatedly said they were willing to take a pay cut but could not afford to lose their jobs.

While some did not mind openly displaying their emotions, others preferred to huddle together quietly.

"Give me my job, give me my job back," one flight attendant from the north-east region of India kept saying.

"What did I come here for? All the way from home… what do I tell my mother now? She has been calling and asking if I still have a job."

According to the protesting staff they were only informed by telephone that they had been "de-rostered" and would eventually be receiving termination letters.

'Few jobs'

Most of them had a flight scheduled in the next couple of days. The letter, they said, did not explain or give any reason for the lay-off.

I have always got good remarks from passengers. I really don't know what to do next
Jet Airlines flight attendant Manav

"I have even gone on international flights. I was confirmed three months back. But they did not serve any notice, nor have they offered any compensation," Kauzar said.

"How will we run the house? Most of us are paying money to our parents or have taken loans for training courses."

However, at a press conference held later in the day, Jet officials maintained that for staff on probation, there was no need for notice or compensation.

Several of the Jet employees are in their early twenties. Many of them have not even completed graduation.

Geeta Sharma, who has one year's experience of working in a five-star hotel, fears that there are few jobs inside or outside the aviation industry.

"We understand that the industry is going through bad times. We don't mind giving up a part of our flight allowance. And then when it gets better our salaries can go up," suggests a hopeful Kauzar.

Chief Executive Officer of India's Kingfisher Airlines Vijay Mallya (L) and Chairman of India's Jet Airways Chairman Naresh Goyal address media representatives after a meeting in Mumbai late October 1
Airline executives say that they need to save money

"Right now if we are making nearly 35,000 rupees ($725) and suddenly we have no job or get a job outside this industry for 10,000 rupees ($200) how will we be able to sustain ourselves?"

Manav, also a flight attendant, rents accommodation in Mumbai, where the rates are among the highest in the country.

"If our work was not satisfactory then they are entitled to remove us from service. But I have always got good remarks from passengers. I really don't know what to do next."

Although many hoped that the lay-offs could have been averted, it transpired throughout Wednesday that the number who had lost their jobs was going up and not down.

Although two political parties have declared their support for the employees, the job losses come at a time when several companies in Mumbai are embarking on a series of cost-cutting measures.

Wednesday's cabin crew protesters are planning to get together again and continue their protests.

As Kauzar and Geeta left with others, they encouraged each other to be prepared for a long and turbulent struggle.

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