The two pilot unions of national carrier Air India have urged the Minister of Civil Aviation and the airline’s chairman and managing director to roll back the reductions in their salary and reinstate their monthly flying allowances in line with industry standards.
Pilots Appeal Through Letters
The appeals were in the form of letters and addressed to the Civil Aviation Minister, Hardeep Singh Puri, and the Air India chairman and managing director, Rajiv Bansal said that most other airlines in India have scaled back their austerity measures.
In its letter dated March 23, the central office of the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA), in Chennai — it has six offices — drew the Minister’s attention to the pilots having borne the “brunt of unjust pay cuts with unilateral reductions to wages of approximately 58% from April 2020, and 55% from October 2020”, at a time when Air India has been the only major Indian airline to operate the most number of repatriation flights through the peak of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
An aviation industry expert familiar with the context in which the letters were written said that as a breakup, this would work out to a 40% cut on all allowances barring salary which is a small part of the gross package. Allowances form nearly 60% to 70% of the gross pay.
Also, instead of the fixed 70 hours payment which is the industry norm, the pilots are being paid based on the actual flying done. In addition, there has been a cut of 40% on the hourly rate payment.
The Hindu in a report said that the ICPA letter mentioned that by “taking away the fixed pay”, which is the industry norm, pilots, and also pilots who were infected with the COVID-19 virus, were affected. It added that it was also unfair to deny the pilots in general their monthly flying allowance despite them being available for flights, yet not having their services utilised for various reasons.
This way, about 350 pilots, out of the ICPA’s pilot strength of about a 1,000 crew, would have been impacted by this. Apart from them, there were about 250 pilots who could not fly due to delays in licence renewals by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and airport entry pass renewals.
The ICPA said that the ‘international layover allowance’ had been amended to government rates, which it found perplexing, as the Air India management observed industry practices and standards for other allowances. The pilots are paid $200 (about ₹14,490) for the first 36 hours and thereafter $6 (about ₹435) per hour.
This has now been changed to reflect government guidelines which vary from country to country. The Union urged the Minister to ensure that this allowance was restored or that pilots were treated on a par with other public sector units in this issue when considering any pay cut that took effect from March 2020, following the pandemic.
The ICPA pointed out that all private airlines in India had scaled back wage austerity measures. The expert said in the case of Vistara, the effective cut on gross was less than 17%, in Air Asia 20%, Indigo 28%, while SpiceJet paid its crew according to their actual flying hours.
In the case of Air India, the wage cuts applied to pilots in its other airline groups too — its low cost subsidiary, Air India Express which employs about 320 pilots, and its regional airline subsidiary, Alliance Air, with about 210 pilots. Both these airlines have foreign national pilots on their rolls as well. They too have had a pay cut but not to the extent of their Indian counterparts. These two airlines do not have a separate union, but are ICPA members.
MP Raises Issue
In a separate development, the Shiv Sena Member of Parliament, Gajanan Kirtikar, wrote to the Civil Aviation Ministry, highlighting among other things, the salary deductions for Air India employees in terms of cost cutting measures having been carried out in a manner in which “no other government department or company” had done so far.
On Saturday, March 27, the Civil Aviation Minister had said that the airline was running up a loss of ₹20 crore every day, with a cumulative debt of ₹60,000 crore. He added that the government was looking to complete the 100% sale of the airline by May or June this year.