By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, Jun 30 (IANS): India's flag carrier Air India has lost a protracted labour battle in Nepal with the country's apex court ruling that the airline would have to abide by Nepal's labour laws while operating in Nepal.
The verdict delivered Tuesday by Supreme Court judges Khilaraj Regmi and Bharatraj Upreti comes as a blow for India's oldest airline that, plagued by losses, is trying to cut down on costs.
The court order is a victory for 39 casual and contractual workers of the airline, earlier known as Indian Airlines, who are now entitled to get permanent jobs along with the perks they carry.
Nearly five years ago, the group of casual workers went to Nepal's Labour Office, saying they were entitled to be hired as permanent employees as they had worked for 240 days and/or continuously for one year.
As per Nepal's labour law, a temporary worker has to be absorbed as a permanent employee if he has worked for 240 days or continuously for one year.
Air India rejected the demand, saying it was not an organisation registered in Nepal but an Indian government institution. As it began flights to Nepal after an agreement between the governments of India and Nepal, Air India said it was not bound by Nepal's labour law.
However, the apex court rejected the argument, saying that since the Nepal office of Air India was opened solely for operations in the Himalayan nation, it was bound by Nepal's labour law.
The five-year battle has already passed through the Labour Office and Labour Court. On Wednesday, Air India began consultations with lawyers to assess the possibility of an appeal against the Supreme Court verdict.
Air India, which began operations in Nepal in 1952, ran into trouble with protesting casual workers about two years ago with the latter storming the airline's office in Kathmandu.
Currently, it has about 45 employees, roughly half of whom are from India and the rest recruited in Nepal.
Other major Indian companies and joint ventures in Nepal have also undergone labout trouble with casual or contractual workers demanding permanent jobs.
About four years ago, the then government of prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala dealt a glancing blow to Indian ventures in Nepal when it went against international norms and said that Indian telecom joint venture United Telecom Ltd would have to give permanent jobs to agitating casual staff recruited through a third-party contracting company.
The decision has now paved the way for other causal workers employed through third-party contractors in the Indian Embassy and other diplomatic missions - like security guards - to demand permanent and direct employment.