July 23, 2007

Biman - Dead Duck or Phoenix?

Yes, I return once again to writing about our white elephant par excellence. A lot has happened since the last time I wrote about it, and my fears that the media would remain quiet were somewhat mitigated, but not altogether. The media probably did the best scrutinising it could under the circumstances, but still left a lot to be desired.

I've complained before about the enormous amount of money needed for the VRS scheme. No details of the structure of the VRS has come to light in the media. Thus we do not know how much blue-collar workers are getting as opposed to pilots as opposed to cabin crew as opposed to management. Neither do we know how much seniority is accounting for. If someone knows where this information is available online, please post the link here. As it is, it did not make it to the mainstream media as far as I know.

The initial response was slow, leading me to think that maybe I had worried for nothing, that maybe the VRS really was ungenerous. By the second week, 900 workers had resigned/retired voluntarily. Who these workers were, what they did, went unreported. On 29th June, after the VRS was over, I came across this article in the Chinese People's Daily talking about pilots leaving Biman in all the uncertainty over turning it into a PLC. How many we lost during the VRS, whether it was offered to them at all, I still don't know and would be happy if someone told me.

Finally, at the end of it all, 2140 workers retired under the VRS. Given that the initial target was to reduce it from 4800 to 3400 - a deduction of 1400 workers - the VRS scheme overshot by 740. Which is what one should expect from a too-generous VRS scheme (but hey, it's not like some people were complaining about that before it even started), coupled with bad management styles, lack of managerial accountability and general lack of oversight over Biman.

Result? Biman rejected some of the VRS applications so that only 1840 workers retired. It also hired back some of its workers to work on a daily basis in order to keep it running. I can't find it now, but the Daily Star article on this hiring back its "voluntarily retired" workers quoted an employee as saying that s/he was working on a day-to-day basis only out of fear that otherwise they would not pay up the VRS money. (Once again, links would earn my undying gratitude.) An aviation industry consultant rightly questions the whole VRS system much more comprehensively than I do. Do note, he mentions that some people were coerced into filing for the VRS while others were considered "indispensable", which is neither here nor there. Hardly the way to treat people. Hardly the way to treat workers. Hardly the way to run a company.

Meanwhile, roundtable conferences discuss some nebulous, ideal future when making it a PLC is enough for efficiency and showing Biman sales agents the door will stop "corruption". The lack of accountability and oversight right under their noses in the current moment is conveniently forgotten.

Meanwhile reports are being filed that Biman needs a new fleet. Granted it does, but with this sort of treatment of its workers, this sort of idiotic schemes and this sort of unaccountable management, how will it not fall behind its competitors within the next 10, if not 5, years?

It would also help business if some of these sorts of stunts are avoided. But then, that needs a motivated workforce doesn't it?

The only sliver of light at the end of the tunnel as far as I'm concerned? This. As I said, it's only a sliver.

An anonymous commenter has some interesting details about the consequences of BPC's monopoly on jet-fuel in Bangladesh. I welcome further details on this.

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