Air India-Indian Commercial Pilots' Association (ICPA) on Thursday wrote to the Air India chairman, stating that the prohibition on the use of social media and policy introduced by the airline in this regard is illegal and violates a fundamental right.
"At the outset, we note with alarm that such a Policy introduced by Air India is entirely illegal and with no basis in law whatsoever. By way of the Policy, Air India has effectively imposed a blanket ban or prohibition on the use of social or digital media by all its employees, including those that have superannuated," it said in a letter to the airline's Chairman and MD (CMD) Rajiv Bansal.
They said that they have examined the Policy introduced by Air India and it appears that the Policy bars all employees of Air India, both serving and retired employees, from posting any content on social media, including but not limited to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and other such forums.
"At present, there is no law in India that either empowers or even remotely justifies such an act by an employer, especially Air India, being a State instrumentality under Article 12 of the Constitution, to impose such a blanket ban on the use of social or digital media by its employees. The same, it is reiterated, is without any basis or lawful sanction," the letter reads.
They further said that is a veiled threat, imposed on the employees under the garb of a set of guidelines and an advisory.
"The present Policy introduced by Air India, is also, and most importantly, violates the fundamental right of freedom and speech, guaranteed to the employees of Air India, under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution, being citizens of India," it further reads.
The union further stated that the policy, unlike social media policies adopted by several other employers, does not even attempt to draw a distinction between the content posted during working hours or from the workplace and that posted after working hours or outside of the workplace.
"For instance, not only does the Policy not distinguish between content uploaded through an official device and a personal device, the Policy goes on to in fact, expressly include content uploaded through personal devices of all its employees," it reads.
The pilot union said that the introduction of a policy is entirely unheard of and infringes upon various rights of its employees.
"It has also been set out in the Policy that violation of the said guidelines, service regulations and standing orders would be tantamount to misconduct and shall also apply to the employees'' online behaviour and conduct on social media or digital platforms," the letter added
In this regard, we draw your attention to the order dated September 27, 2016, passed by the Supreme Court, in SLP(C) Nos. 12575-12577/2014, wherein it has been categorically recorded as follows, and the questions of law have been referred to a larger bench, comprising three judges:
"The present dispute, inter alia, relates to whether Section 9A of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 would apply to the respondents herein, by virtue of a 1960 Regulation made under proviso (b) thereof no longer having any effect in law, as a result of the introduction of The Air Corporations (Transfer of Undertakings and Repeal) Act, 1994. By Judgment dated 27.01.2014, the Division Bench of the Bombay High Court has relied upon a Judgment of this Court in Air India Vs. Union of India reported in (1995) 4 SCC 734, which held that on the coming into force of The Air Corporations (Transfer of Undertakings and Repeal) Act, 1994 with effect from 29.01.1994, Regulations made under The Air Corporations Act, 1953 would also come to an end. This Judgment, as has been noted by the impugned Judgment itself, has been referred to a larger Bench by an order dated 11.12.2006 in Civil Appeal No. 5921 of 2006."
Earlier Air India has issued letters to all its serving as well as retired employees regarding engagement on Social Media or Digital platforms.
In its policy the Air India has said has advised its employees to desist from posting any personal views contradicting the organisation's message or on policy matters related to the aviation sector.
The guidelines are valid for all types of participation on social media, including indirect participation, when an employee does not own a profile or social media account but endorses or participates in any content or debate adversely.
The Policy also states that Air India reserves the right to monitor comments or discussions about the company, employees, clients and the industry posted by employees on the Internet.