AIR INDIA

Air India Pilots’ union wants reversal of pay cuts imposed in the wake of COVID-19

Published : October 04, 2021 12:15 IST

An Air India aircraft prepares to land at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport in Mumbai. Photo: Bloomberg

Terming the continuation of the pay cuts and the “drastically reduced allowances” an “unfair financial burden that we are being forced to endure”, the IPG has also taken umbrage at the airline’s September 30 decision to retract the ‘full board’ facility, that is, providing all three meals to pilots while they are on domestic/international layovers.

Even as the government tries desperately to hive of its debt-ridden national carrier, Air India, the Indian Pilots’ Guild (IPG), has written to Rajiv Bansal, the outgoing chairman and managing director of Air India, “strongly urging” the airline’s management to reverse the “unfair” pay cuts imposed on pilots after the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Terming the continuation of the pay cuts and the “drastically reduced allowances” an “unfair financial burden that we are being forced to endure”, the IPG has also taken umbrage at the airline’s September 30 decision to retract the ‘full board’ facility, that is, providing all three meals to pilots while they are on domestic/international layovers.

The IPG, which, along with the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA), is one of the two main bodies that represent the interests and grievances of pilots in Air India, points out in the letter dated October 1 that the layover sustenance allowance of Air India pilots was “drastically cut to approximately one-third of its original sum resulting in a 60 to 70 per cent” reduction. The IPG also stated that though the flying allowance of pilots was cut ever since the advent of the pandemic by 40 per cent in theory, in practice the cut surmounted to 70 to 80 per cent owing to the significant reduction in the number of flying hours allotted to each pilot.

Drawing a comparison between the working conditions of nonpilots and pilots in the Air India workforce, the IPG said that while the former “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 per cent”, pilots, thanks to the cuts in their layover sustenance and flying allowances, had their “total emoluments reduced by over 60 per cent”.

Highlighting a tweet from the official twitter handle of the Ministry of Civil Aviation (@MoCA_GoI), which stated, “domestic aviation operations soaring with all Covid Protocols in place”, the IPG claimed that the statement was “about the positivity that Indian civil aviation has begun to enjoy and the optimistic future that lies ahead” and “a clear indication that the worst is behind the Indian aviation sector”. The IPG also cited the management’s stand as spelled out in an email to pilots, which said, “keeping in mind the improvement in the COVID-19 pandemic situation”.

Accusing the management of doublespeak, the IPG in its letter, signed by its general secretary Captain Vijayanand Bagve, said: “[T]he company at one end believes that the threat of Covid is subsiding, and yet acts otherwise when it comes to restoring our rightful pay.”

The IPG said it completely agreed with the Ministry’s statement and shared its optimism, and asked: “[S]houldn’t Air India also consider revising the pay scales of the employees who would be at the very front end of this ambitious project?”

The IPG reaffirmed that its “support as frontline workers towards the nation and towards Air India in its time of need was driven by a strong sense of duty and patriotism” and pointed out that it has been 18 months long and that “the pay cut has been disproportionately implemented upon pilots”. “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 oneself leading to a state of desperation,” the letter said.

In a written response in the Lok Sabha, Minister of State for Civil Aviation V.K. Singh confirmed that until July 14 a total of 3,523 Air India employees had been affected by the virus, with the national carrier losing 56 staff members, including five pilots.

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