Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Hundreds of ground handling agents of international airlines told to go on leave

Chennai: The coronavirus pandemic has had its first direct impact on employment in India. Hundreds of ground handling agents (GHAs) providing support services to international airlines have been asked to go on ‘temporary’ leave as over 75 per cent of the flights to and from India have been suspended over the past few days.
There is now an imminent threat of unemployment for nearly 35,000 GHAs associated with various international airlines, till regular flight operations begin again. The ground handling (GH) industry totally employs over 70,000 people, with over half of them working for international airlines.
On March 3, India suspended visas granted to the nationals of Italy, Iran, South Korea and Japan. On Monday, the list was extended to include those from the EU and the UK. This has shut the doors to over 90 per cent of international flights, said an industry source.
R Promod, General Manager - India, NAS Ground Handling, said: “Temporary layoffs can be foreseen. No airline, GHA or travel agent will be able to survive without drastic cost cuts. The whole team can be in trouble as their salaries won’t come if there are no flights.”
Redeploying the GHAs is unlikely as, when an international airline ceases to operate in India, it is a countrywide move and not to any specific airport, he told BusinessLine.
Echoing a similar view, Murali Ramachandran, CEO - India, Celebi Aviation Holding Inc, said: “The situation is quite concerning. The aviation industry is at the forefront of this crisis and is probably the most impacted.” Celebi operates at India’s top seven airports, employing around 8,000 people.
“Post the visa directives, airlines have started cancelling flights. This will lead us to a force majeure situation. Leave without pay is an alternative. Countries abroad are providing support to avoid layoffs. The Indian government should provide financial support for salaries to avoid layoffs,” he added.
17/03/20 TE Raja Simhan/Business Line
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