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Where does the truth lie? A few days back all the newspapers reported the financial troubles of India’s leading airlines. Jet Airways was said to have sacked 1900 employees, most of them probationers, which would result in a savings of $ 1 million per month. This made a media splash as the airline industry was reckoned to be a big employer of the future. Yet it is a fact that the airlines are losing money and must take steps to improve their profitability. Jet and Kingfisher owe more than Rs 2000 crores to India’s oil companies.

As usual, everyone jumped right in to make the most of the situation. Union Ministers blamed each other and the Jet Airways management. They made it clear that the Government had no role to play in this. Shortly after, Air India announced that they would not lay off employees but give them the option of going on leave without pay for anywhere between 3 to 5 years. This was not for 1900 employees but the offer was open for 15,000 employees. Industry observers see this as a clear case to highlight the difference between the public sector ( read; Air India) and the private sector ( read; Jet Airways).

Today’s news was even more surprising. In an amazing turnaround, Jet Airways announced the reinstatement of all the sacked employees. Incredible as it may sound, Jet Airways Chairman, Naresh Goyal said yesterday that he was unaware of the decision to sack the employees and it was taken by his management.

Today, we hear that Mr. Goyal was profusely apologetic. He is quoted as saying “I have not spoken to anyone from the management. Cost cutting has to be done but we will stand by our employees. My management might not like it but I have taken the decision from my conscience”.

The truth will, as always, be never known. It does look fairly certain to many that enormous pressure was brought upon him to rescind the decision to fire his staff. As an article in the Economic Times says, it is a defeat of professionalism at the altar of populism.

There may have been valid reasons for laying off Jet Airways employees. The manner in which they were taken back once again brings to the fore the difference between India and the West when it comes to tough decisions relating to business.

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This is Post No: 318 of the “A Step A Day” series : To provide perspective and provoke thought to facilitate self-development across a wide spectrum of issues- big and small- crucial for executive success.

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