Air India’s pilot association says change in wage settlement is illegal
Air India’s pilot association informed the national carrier’s management on Monday that changes in wage settlement would be illegal and such a situation has the “potential to [flare up] to an unprecedented magnitude”.
This comes days after Air India approved a leave without pay (LWP) scheme for permanent employees for a period of six months to two years, extendable up to five years,
“Any unilateral change by Air India from agreed upon wage settlement would be illegal and will not be in the interest of our National Carrier at this crucial juncture. Such a situation has the potential to [falre up] to an unprecedented magnitude,” the Indian Commercial Pilot Association (ICPA) wrote in a letter addressed to Air India chairman and managing director Rajiv Bansal, a copy of which was reviewed by Hindustan Times.
“In the interest of the company and due to the Covid scenario, ICPA supports temporary austerity measures at all fronts, only if such a restructuring is done in true spirit of the Article 14 of the Indian Constitution. Flying allowance and flying related allowances constitute 70% of our wages. These allowances remain unpaid since April 2020,” the letter said.
“Furthermore, all the wages are being paid with constant delays. The proposal was verbally explained to us without any written true copy...the management cannot and should not unilaterally implement any restructured wage,” it added.
In a statement issued on Friday, the airline had said: “Air India is in a very challenging financial situation and is taking recourse to several initiatives with a view to ensuring the continuance of its operations.”
It added, “Air India has introduced the Leave Without Pay (LWP) Scheme on July 14, 2020. The scheme primarily enables employees to avail the benefits of proceeding on leave without pay on VOLUNTARY basis. The LWP scheme has been introduced for grant of leave without pay and allowances for permanent employees for a period of six months/two years, which is extendable up to 5 years.”
Air India had introduced a similar LWP scheme in September 1998, June 2009 and August 2009. Several hundred employees have in the past availed of LWP, the letter said.
The pilot’s body said no negotiations had been held by the management with pilots.
“In the press conference by Hon’ble Minister Shri Hardeep Singh Puri dated 16th July 2020, you had stated ‘we are in negotiation with the pilots’, which is far from reality. It was not a negotiation, but the diktat of MoCA which was conveyed to us. We would also like to place on record that the so-called negotiation was ‘not harmonious’ in any aspect,” the ICPA letter alleged.
At a news conference on Thursday, Bansal had said the national carrier is working on four fronts to reduce costs by reducing debt, cutting on lease rentals, trimming staff costs and reducing operating costs.
“We are trying to increase the topline, and are trying to contain costs,” Bansal said at a news conference along with civil aviation minister Hardeep Puri. “We have cut down staff cost, we have laid off employees working with us post-retirement and we are in negotiations with pilots, cabin crew and other employee categories.”
Puri had said airlines across the world are implementing cost cutting measures.
The cost cutting drive dovetails with a government plan to sell its stake in Air India amid increasing debt and mounting losses. The Centre started the process in January by releasing an information document for investors and offering access to financial and other data of Air India and its subsidiaries.
The government’s stake in Air India, its 100% stake in low-cost subsidiary Air India Express Ltd and 50% stake in ground handling unit Air India SATS Airport Services are on offer.
An attempt to auction a majority stake almost two years ago failed to draw bids. The airline’s accumulated debt is estimated to be more than Rs 69,000 crore. It posted a loss of Rs 8,556 crore in fiscal 2018-19, against a net loss of Rs 5,348 crore in the previous fiscal.
When contacted by HT on Monday, an Air India spokesperson said: “We wouldn’t like to make any comment on these internal issues.”