Pilots of Air India have been on a “go slow” agitation since August this year, protesting against the latest round of attacks on their wages and rights.
The Air India pilots are protesting against a note issued by the Labour Ministry in mid August, clarifying that they are excluded from the ‘workmen’ category of the Industrial Dispute Act. The note classifies the role of the pilots as “managerial and administrative” and not that of workmen.
This implies that pilots of Air India cannot form a trade union, cannot go on strike to press their demands and their service conditions (including salaries) can be changed without prior notice.
The Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) is reported to have a filed a case in court against this order.
The pilots of Air India are also opposing the cut-back in their salaries, proposed by the management. Following the merger of Air India and Indian Airlines, the management has been talking of ‘harmonising’ the salaries of the pilots employed by the erstwhile Indian Airlines (referred to as narrow body pilots) and those employed by Air India (referred to as wide body pilots). At present the difference in emoluments of pilots of the two fleets varies from Rs 50,000-Rs 1,50,000. The management has proposed cuts in salaries of the wide body pilots. The agitating pilots have also complained that they have not received their salaries for 7-8 months.
Meanwhile, the ICPA is reported to have conducted a secret ballot between August 1 and September 9, to decide on whether to go on strike or not. On September 15 it was reported that over 95% of the pilots represented by the union have voted in favour of going on strike, to voice their demands clearly before the management.
As has been reported earlier, Air India has huge resources all over the country and highly skilled personnel. The government has been systematically wrecking Air India, with a view to privatisation of the national airlines. Many services have already been separately contracted out or privatised. Several important routes have been cancelled, to give an advantage to private airlines. As part of this plan, it has been systematically attacking the rights and working conditions of the pilots and other staffs .The pilots and staff of Air India have waged many struggles in the past as well, against the efforts of the government and management to privatise the airlines.
MEL supports the struggle of the pilots of Air India.