Mihin staff ‘grounded’ without pay

By Rohan Abeywardena

More than 200 employees of the grounded government-owned budget carrier Mihin Lanka are up in arms, saying they have not received their salaries and that such basic perks as company transport have been stopped.

Mihin employees say they are sadly disillusioned by a company that had promised its future staff a secure and bright future, based on the rosy picture painted by the airline’s founder and chief executive officer, Sajin de Vass Gunawardena. The employees say they came on board the budget carrier with lots of hope and confidence, many of them moving out with their families to live in Negombo in order to be close to their workplace, at the airport. Now they cannot even feed their families, let alone pay the rent and meet other commitments, they say.

Some Mihin Lanka managers claim they have not been paid for two months, and are unable to even use their vehicles because they have not received their fuel allowance for the last two months.

Mihin Lanka’s monthly expenses covering salaries, including EPF and ETF payments, comes to around Rs. 14 million. A large proportion of this Rs. 14 million goes to the company’s managers, many of whom were recruited by Sajin de Vass Gunawardena on six-figure salaries, with lucrative perks.

Insiders allege that largely because of the previous CEO’s extravagant ways, the airline, which was in operation for about one year, has squandered some Rs. 3 billion rupees given by the Treasury and state banks, in addition to running up bills to the tune of another Rs. 2 billion for services and products acquired on credit during the same one-year period.

According to sources, when Mihin Lanka was grounded in April this year the authorities were advised to send home the entire staff, giving them one or two months’ salary, till such time as the company’s finances were sorted out and the airline possibly resuscitated. But, sources say, the authorities are reluctant to do so, fearing bad publicity.

A company insider said yesterday that Mihin Lanka hoped next week to pay full salaries to lower-ranking staff and substantial proportions of salaries to other staff out of a VAT refund of about Rs.17 million that Mihin Lanka was expecting from the Inland Revenue Department (the VAT refund will be made in instalments).

The source also said that the acting chief executive officer, Anura Bandara, was working without a salary in a general company effort to help revive the airline.

Although Treasury Secretary and Silencing Chairman Dr. P. B. Jayasundera has publicly hinted that Mihin Lanka may be accommodated as a junior partner of SriLankan Airlines, the national carrier, other sources say this proposal has met with vehement opposition from powerful sections of SriLankan Airlines unions.

The Mihin Lanka source said that arrangements have been made with the national carrier to take in about 60 Mihin Lanka employees, based on their skills. It is understood that many Mihin Lanka staff will be absorbed into SriLankan Airlines’ ground handling team.

Meanwhile, over the past few weeks about 18 Mihin Lanka employees have handed in their resignations, including at least two managers, according to sources.

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