Monday, November 21, 2011

Air India Cabin Crew Association v Union of India

The Supreme Court has delivered an important judgment in Air India Cabin Crew Association v Union of India last week. Here is the press note sent to me summarising the judgment. The judgment is available on JUDIS, but I couldn't find a direct link to post here.

A Supreme Court bench of Justices Altamas Kabir and Cyriac Joseph, on November 17, upheld Air India’s 2005 decision to abandon its policy of reserving the In-flight Supervisor designation to its male cabin crew. An Inflight Supervisor is the boss-in-charge of all cabin crew on board a flight – i.e. female cabin crew or Air hostesses, as well as male cabin crew, Flight Pursers. Once on board the aircraft, all cabin crew, whether Air hostess or Flight Purser, are under the direct supervision of the Inflight Supervisor.

Until 2005, only men were designated by Air India as Inflight Supervisors. This meant that male Flight Pursers who were appointed Inflight Supervisors would supervise the work of all Air hostesses, including those who were many grades above them and many years senior to them. 

In December 2005, Air India decided to end this blatantly discriminatory practice, announced that Inflight Supervisors will be appointed from among both genders, and designated 10 women Senior Managers (each of whom had more than 30 years of flying experience), as Inflight Supervisors. This decision of Air India was challenged by the male Flight Pursers before the Delhi High Court, claiming that agreements between their union and Air India preserved the position of Inflight Supervisor only for men, and also claiming that the Supreme Court of India had recognized this right.

On 8 October 2007 the Delhi High Court dismissed the Flight Pursers’ petition, holding that it was unable to discern in any of the agreements between the union and Air India, any assurance or promise to the male cabin crew that a female colleague of theirs will never be asked to perform the function of an In Flight Supervisor. It took note of the irony that although many of the Air hostesses had trained the flight pursers to perform the functions of Inflight Supervisor, they were themselves excluded from performing the function. The High Court held that Air India’s removing of the 'men only' tag from the position of Inflight Supervisor, was in keeping with the mandates of Articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution of India prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sex, as well as binding international obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Air India, the high court held, had enabled its female cabin crew to break the Glass Ceiling and there was nothing unreasonable in male cabin crew being asked to serve on a flight which had their female colleague as an Inflight Supervisor.

The Flight Pursers challenged the Delhi High Court judgment before the Supreme Court, and in November 2007, the Supreme Court directed status quo, which meant that Air India was unable to implement its decision to bring about equality. By its judgment Thursday, the Supreme Court dismissed the petitions and upheld the Delhi High Court’s decision, recognizing Air India’s right to place an employee in a position where she would be best able to contribute to the Company.

The Supreme Court’s confirmation of the Delhi High Court judgment is an important milestone in the fight against discrimination by Air India’s female employees. Importantly in the present airline scenario, it is also a matter of sound business sense that the most experienced and the most capable are placed in positions of responsibility and that women are not kept from such positions on account of their gender.
Post a Comment