On 1st June, 2021, the Delhi High Court quashed Air India’s decision to terminate the services of several of its regular and contractual pilots and ordered their reinstatement along with payment of all back salaries.
In the middle of coronavirus pandemic last year, the management of Air India had sacked over 50 of its pilots citing drastic decrease in the number of flights and financial constraints due to the coronavirus crisis. The termination letters were given to the pilots on the evening of 13 August, 2020 with immediate effect, even though, just a few weeks earlier the airline had promised that no employees would be laid off. These entirely unjust termination notices served to the pilots were strongly contested by their union, the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA).
The management of Air India has been using the situation created by the pandemic to increase the exploitation of its pilots and other employees. In July 2020, the airlines had announced massive cuts in salaries and allowances of the pilots amounting to 60-65% of their pay. ICPA had strongly opposed the pay cuts and even rejected the offer of an insignificant roll back in the pay-cuts, offered by the government in December 2020.
During the pandemic lockdown period commercial flights were grounded. However, the government scheduled thousands of Air India flights as part of the Vande Bharat Mission to bring back Indians who were stranded in foreign countries. The pilots considered it their national duty to bring back stranded Indian citizens and operated such flights despite risk of contracting Covid-19 themselves. Yet the government cut down their allowances, including the allowance for staying in foreign destinations. Even as the pilots were taking part in this Mission, there had been several instances of harrassment of the pilots by the management.
The management of Air India tried to justify the terminations by claiming that these pilots had given notices of resignation. However, this claim by the management is false since the pilots had withdrawn their resignation notices before the 6 month notice period was over and before the resignation letters were accepted by Air India management. Upon withdrawal of their resignation letters, pilots had indicated that they were willing to continue working. The termination letters were issued by Air India management subsequently, when the pilots had already withdrawn their resignations as per the prevailing rules.
Just like the experience of other workers, the experience of pilots also clearly shows that it is only through struggle that workers can defend their rights and livelihood. Mazdoor Ekta Lehar congratulates the Air India pilots and their union for their successful struggle.