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Corporate Aug 10, 2012

Why Kingfisher employees should call Mallya’s bluff

By R Jagannathan

Vijay Mallya, the embattled chief of Kingfisher Airlines (KFA), has threatened to stop funding the airline if employees didn't stop agitating for their dues and disrupt flight schedules. On Wednesday, pilots went on strike forcing many KFA flight cancellations.

In the letter to employees, Mallya first paints himself as a martyr. "Why should I spend every day to keep our airline afloat if the actions of our own colleagues lead to loss of guest confidence and lower income by cancellation of flights or low load factors that result from uncertainty? What is the confidence that I can give to investors who I am in dialogue with?"

Then comes a threat. "If some colleagues feel that I will be pressurised by flight cancellations, they are wrong. Instead, I will stop my own support as a few are effectively holding the entire company to ransom," reports The Times of India.

Then comes the time-worn employer line: if you don't like it, quit. "If a section of our colleagues feel that their actions (not flying) are justified and that they know best, they can elect to leave our company. But such threats and disruptive actions are not acceptable...the actions of a few can adversely affect all of us."

Kingfisher is bleeding and Mallya is doing his damnedest - from pulling political strings to parleying with bankers and investors - to keep it afloat. Reuters

Sure, we all know that Kingfisher is bleeding and Mallya is doing his damnedest - from pulling political strings to parleying with bankers and investors - to keep it afloat.

But it's time for his employees to call his bluff. It won't save them their jobs, but it will puncture Mallya's claim that he will shut down the airline if they don't fall in line.

Here's the kind of reply his employees should be drafting.

Dear Mr Mallya

We are happy to note that you are spending every waking hour trying to keep our wonderful airline afloat - an airline which won many awards in the past for quality of service due to the hard work put in by employees on all fronts. This did not happen because of all the calendars you produced, but your vision that guided us in the beginning of providing a world class airline in India.

However, if you believe that by threatening to stop funding the airline, you are going to save it from imminent failure, you are wrong. As you surely know, for months on end now employees have not been paid their salaries. So when you ask "Why should I spend every day to keep our airline afloat..." we can equally ask: "Why should we spend working for months for an airline that won't pay us our dues?" You have to ask yourself: can unpaid employees give of their best? You cannot serve your customers well by keeping employees hungry. Vineet Nayar's book is titled Employees First, Customers Second primarily because of this truism.

Yes, we do know these are tough times, but is this because of us or faulty decisions by the management? We were running a world-class airlines before you decided to buy Air Deccan. You tried to mate a race-horse with a mule and hoped it would create a Derby winner. To make things worse, you even called it Kingfisher Red. Is it any surprise Kingfisher is in the Red? This faulty business model lies at the root of our problems, but you make it sound as if it was our fault that the airline in now sinking.

You also have asked employees who don't like it here to quit. This is the kind of threat made by every employer to avoid giving workers their dues. We, as employees, do not want to do anything to damage the survival prospects of an airline we built with our own sweat and blood - and, we may add, encouragement from you when you were the King of Good Times. But these are not good times for us. When the homefires are being put out due to a lack of salary payments, can you expect employees to remain working stoically? So your statement that "if a section of our colleagues feel that their actions (not flying) are justified and that they know best, they can elect to leave our company" indicates an inability to empathise with what we are going through.

We know that you are battling on several fronts. You say, "Everyday, I have to write cheques...irrespective of revenue flow...", but as our spouses point out everyday, when that salary cheque does not into our accounts every month, we have to borrow to pay our rents, our children's school fees and buy our daily food.

The thing we dislike most about your letter is the implied threat to stop funding the airline. For months on end now, you have been promising us that you will raise money, and that new investors are just waiting round the corner to pour money into the airline. You began cancelling flights in the last quarter of 2011, and it is the nine months since then and we are still hearing the same story.

We have had no choice but to believe in you, but after so many months and so many failed promises, it is difficult to keep the faith.

So we would like to call your bluff and tell you: please do stop funding the airline and close it down. At least we will know where we stand. We can look for jobs, we can begin to accept that our cheese has moved. It is better than believing that you have a job and still don't receive a salary at the end of the month.

Let us know either way. If you think you are making such a great sacrifice for us, please do shut the airline down. It will bring clarity to all our lives.

Yours sincerely

A Friend of Kingfisher Employees

by R Jagannathan

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