Air India Pilot Union requests resumption of flight pay

Air India Sale - Government mulls restricting employee benefits

The Indian Pilots’ Guild (IPG), the Air India Boeing pilots’ union, wrote to Rajiv Bansal, the new aviation secretary and their former chairman and managing director (CMD), on Friday, October 1, requesting that their pay cuts be restored, citing a significant reduction in Covid-19 cases.

The news comes as the government nears completion of the divestiture of its entire stake in national carrier Air India, it’s subsidiary Air India Express, and a 50% stake in ground handling firm Air India SATS Airport Services Pvt. Ltd. (AISATS).

(Image Courtesy – India Today)

They also requested that the authorities reinstate the ‘full boards facility’ (three-time meal allowance for pilots on domestic and international layovers), which the company had previously announced would be discontinued via email.

Keeping in mind the improvement in the Covid-19 pandemic situation, competent authorities decided to discontinue full board with effect from midnight on September 30, 2021, within India and 11 other countries, including the United States and Canada, according to an email sent to pilots on Thursday night.

“With the advent of the pandemic, our layover sustenance allowance was drastically cut to approximately one-third of its original sum resulting in a 60–70% cut. Furthermore, our flying allowance was cut by 40%, only in theory, in practice, this cut surmounted to 70-80% due to the significant reduction in the number of flying hours allotted to each pilot,” read the letter.

(Image Courtesy – NDTV)

The pilots reiterated that they operated the Vande Bharat flights and emergency evacuation missions despite their ‘harsh’ pay cuts.

The pilots’ union also criticized the airline’s management for its decision to retract the “full board” facility, which is providing all three meals to the pilots while on domestic or international layovers. 

IPG urged Bansal to reverse the full-board cut and also reinstate their wage structure. IPG pleaded with the management to reverse the pay cut ahead of the completion of the divestment process. 

“In the interest of the travelling public, we have ensured that to date not a single flight has been disrupted. A large number of our colleagues contracted Covid-19 abroad as a result of operating these flights. Many serious cases led to hospitalization and long term medical grounding but most tragically, a few of our colleagues even lost their lives to the disease. Yet the airline continues to operate with negligible concern for employee welfare.

It is imperative to remind you once again that the above two cuts have affected us severely wherein our total emoluments have been reduced by over 60% as compared to the rest of the workforce who have had the luxury of working from home through the pandemic and yet enjoyed the benevolence of a gentle pay cut to the tune of 10%.

Eighteen months along, we once again highlight that the pay cut has been disproportionately implemented upon pilots. It is shameful that despite our continuous support and with the steady recovery of the aviation industry our pay scales continue to be held back and basic facilities continue to be withdrawn. Our members have endured extreme hardship due to the unfair pay cut and as the economy and the aviation industry continue to recover it is becoming more and more difficult to sustain one’s self leading to a state of desperation.

Upon the eve of privatization, it would be righteous to stop the injustice and acknowledge the unending support of our members to the airline, to the MOCA and the Indian passenger. We strongly urge you to reverse this pay cut and immediately reinstate our rightful wage structure.”

The Indian Pilots’ Guild (IPG)

Employees asked to vacate quarters

Air India has also requested that its employees vacate their quarters within six months of the airline’s disinvestment. In a letter to Air India’s Chairman, the Ministry of Civil Aviation stated that during a meeting earlier this month, it was decided that Air India employees can stay in their residential colonies after divestment for six months or until the property is monetised, whichever comes first. The term “disinvestment period” refers to the time period following the transaction’s closing date.

(Image Courtesy – India Today)

It further added that all retired employees still residing in the colonies who have already availed of the permitted period of retention might be served an eviction notice to vacate. If anyone has been permitted retention of accommodation beyond four months, the permission will be withdrawn and they will be advised to vacate immediately.

Beyond the disinvestment, employees in possession of AI residences will not be paid house rent allowance (HRA), lease rental allowance or housing allowance.

Challange Ahead

The new owner will have to deal with a variety of issues. To begin, the new owner will have to deal with Air India’s massive workforce — for example, the airline employs approximately 1,500 trained pilots and 2,000 aircraft engineers to maintain the fleet. An old Air India employee said that transitioning from the work culture of a government-owned public sector enterprise to meeting the expectations and work standards of a private sector owner will be difficult.

Air India, which is being divested by the government, comprises Air India, which primarily operates on international routes, Indian Airlines (rebranded Air India after the merger in 2007) and Air India Express, which was created in 2005 and primarily connects Kerala to the Gulf region.

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