India’s national carrier, Air India, has initiated a scheme to put some employees on compulsory leave-without-pay (LWP). Air India says its financial situation is very challenging due to the coronavirus pandemic and has to implement cost-cutting measures to continue its operations.

The airline’s board of directors has given the go-ahead to put some employees on LWP for six months or for a period of two years extendable up to five years. Department managers have been given the task of identifying employees for compulsory LWP.

The trade unions of Air India termed the scheme as illegal lay-off.

In a letter to Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri, the Joint Action Forum of Air India Unions strongly opposed the scheme.

“We are indeed shocked that the management of Air India formulated a scheme for compulsorily sending workers on leave without pay, which is akin to an illegal lay-off.”

The forum pointed out that no consultations or negotiations have been held with any of the trade unions over this issue.

The airline says the worsening financial situation has forced them to implement the scheme.

Air-India has a debt of around Rs 70,000 crore (£7.4 billion) and made a loss of around Rs 8,500 crore (£900 million) during the last financial year.