The Indian Pilots’ Guild (IPG) and the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) representing the pilots of Air India have flatly rejected the 5% roll back in salary cut proposed by the government. They have also warned that they will be forced to go on strike unless there is a timely and significant roll back in the pay cut.
In a joint letter to the Chairman and Managing Director of Air India, on 24th December 2020, the two pilots’ unions conveyed their rejection of the paltry 5% rollback in the pay cut that had been imposed on them six months ago. This pay cut had also been applied to the pilots of Air India’s subsidiaries – Air India Express and Alliance Air.
The pay cut referred to by the pilot unions was the result of a change in the wage structure of the pilots introduced in July 2020. This new wage structure reduced the pay of Air India pilots by 60% (40% on salary and 85% on flying allowances) and introduced a leave-without-pay policy. Deduction had been applied for the most part on flying allowances, which make up for 70% of the total salary of senior pilots and about 50% of total salary of junior pilots. The end result of this was a reduction of 60-65%, on an average, in the gross salary of a pilot. The gross salary of a pilot has 3 components – basic salary, flying allowance and international layover allowance. When all commercial flights were grounded following the announcement of the lockdown on 25th March 2020, the pilots were not paid paid their international layover allowances for February and March.
The pilots had viewed this pay cut as unjust, more so in view of the fact that the top management of Air India had taken a much lower cut. The senior management had taken a cut on just some allowances, which comprises around 20% of their salary, so their cut effectively came down to just about 3-5%. The airline’s pilots have been demanding that “austerity cuts” should be equally shared by all employees. In September, they met with the Minister of Civil Aviation to air their grievances and were promised relief. Again, in November, they had written to and sought a meeting with the Minister, but to no avail. By October, other airlines had started rolling back the pay cuts, whereas the Air India pilots faced a further cut, taking the cumulative pay cut to 70 per cent of their gross salary.
The pilots have been pointing out that they were fulfilling their duty to the country with all commitment, not only flying Vande Bharat Mission flights to bring back stranded Indians from abroad, but also transporting necessary personal protection equipment (PPE) and medicines during the lockdown. They did so at the risk of contracting the virus, and being de-rostered without pay.
Long-term lung damage or neurological or cardiovascular damage, as a side effect of Covid-19, also meant loss of livelihood for them. In fact, 171 pilots had tested positive. Other pilots not affected by the disease had worked overtime and endured much hardship to ensure smooth operations during the pandemic.
The pilots are determined to fight for their just right to restoration of a substantial part of their gross salary.