Air India pilots enraged by 'pathetic' Covid pay cut relief, won't extend duty time

The Air India pilot unions added that the top management has chosen to 'heap discrimination' on them 'in the guise of the ongoing pandemic'

Air India pilots enraged by 'pathetic' Covid pay cut relief, won't extend duty time
Air India pilot unions continue to clash with the management. Image courtesy: Twitter//@aaiagtairport

Two prominent Air India pilot unions, the Indian Commercial Pilots' Association (ICPA) and the Indian Pilots' Guild (IPG), representing the pilots flying the national carrier's narrow-body and wide-body aircraft respectively, have said that their members would not extend Flight Duty Time Limitation (FDTL), in view of the "pathetic 3% decrease" in the gross reduction on their emoluments.

In a letter (copy provided at the end of the report) to Air India's Director (Operations) RS Sandhu, the two pilot unions said, "We have been very patient in the face of mounting neglect by the management during Covid-19 and have left no stone unturned to ensure smooth flight operations continue."

The unions added that in spite of the pilots' efforts, the top management has chosen to "heap discrimination" on them "in the guise of the ongoing pandemic" by unilaterally burdening them with "draconian pay cuts" while washing its hands off its fiscal responsibilities towards the carrier or its frontline employees. 

The letter made a reference to competing carriers revoking temporary austerity measures now that the Indian aviation sector is on the path of recovery. Market leader IndiGo has been the first airline in India that had started to restore the salaries of the employees.

Also read: Air India pilot unions fume at 'disproportionate' Covid pay cut, ask members to avoid airline bid

"We will no longer extend unconditional cooperation while the top management continues to mock the dignity of our profession," the letter said. 

The Air India pilots had earlier alleged that their salaries were cut by as much as 58%, and the airline has agreed to restore just 5% of the reduction, ET Now had reported.

The two unions, in a letter to the Air India Chairman and Managing Director Rajiv Bansal, had rejected the "illegal salary cuts" and threatened an "industrial strike". They had even sarcastically suggested that the 5% salary cut relief should be donated to the PM CARES fund or used for setting up the new Parliament building.   

Air India had, however, maintained that the salary cut for the pilots was high as a result of the non-operation of flights with a major part of the pilots' salaries being made up of flying allowances. 

Also read: Now Air India cabin crew may also stay away from employee bid

Domestic flights were banned in India on March 25 to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. They were resumed in a limited manner from May 25, and slowly airlines have been allowed to operate at 80% of their pre-Covid capacity. However, the ban on international scheduled commercial air travel, which was imposed on March 23, continues.

The government has, however, allowed international passenger travel under the Vande Bharat Mission (VBM) for the repatriation of stranded people and air bubbles. Air India has been playing a significant role in both these initiatives. Recently a ban was imposed on UK flights till December 31 in view of the emergence of a new strain of the coronavirus in that country. 

The Air India pilots also pointed out that even Members of Parliament had to undergo lesser pay cuts. "While the parliamentarians themselves have taken a cut of only 30% on gross emoluments and vehemently refused to take a higher cut, we think it is completely egregious for us pilots to continue tolerating this arbitrary massive cut of 55% of our gross emoluments,” the pilots added.

Earlier ICPA and IPG had asked their members to stay away from bidding for the airline, citing the pay cut issue.

In a letter to the Air India CMD, the All India Cabin Crew Association (AICCA) had also said that its members would not be participating in the employee bids for the airline, considering that over Rs 1,400 crore of employee arrears were outstanding, according to an IANS report.

On December 14, a consortium of Air India employees under the airline's commercial director Meenakshi Mallik had bid to take over the airline, in which the government seeks to offload its entire stake and management control, apart from 100% stake in the national carrier's low-cost arm Air India Express and 50% in the ground-handling unit AISATS.