Air India pilot unions oppose 10 per cent cut in employees’ allowances

MUMBAI: State-owned Air India’s pilot unions on Friday opposed the 10 per cent cut in employees’ allowances, terming the decision as “unequal” and that goes against the spirit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal to the companies to ensure that the salaries of the employees are not slashed amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In a joint letter to Air India chief Rajiv Bansal on Friday, the Indian Pilots Guild (IPG) and Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) said the reduction in allowance was against the labour and employment ministry’s advisory to all employers of public or private establishments not to terminate their employees or reduce their wages.

“We, the flying crew of Air India feel, immensely let down by the self-serving approach of the Executive Management Committee in the name of cost cutting measures. The committee has completely disregarded the appeal made by the prime minister and the advisory from the labour and employment ministry,” the pilot unions said.

Two days after Modi’s appeal during his televised address to the nation on imposition of a 21-day lockdown to curb spread of the coranvirus infection, to companies not to cut employees salaries (due to the lockdown), Air India decided to reduce 10 per cent of allowances paid to all employees, except cabin crew, for a period of three months to tide over the economic fallout of COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus. The reduction, however, did not impact the basic pay, house rent allowance and variable dearness allowance.

On March 18, the airline had decided to withdraw special allowance to pilots while revising downward the layover allowance for cabin crew. Significantly, flying allowance accounts for as much as 70 per cent in a pilots’ salaries.

“By effecting a 10 per cent cut in allowances for all employees, the category that has been affected the most are pilots. Flying-related allowances of pilots’ wages allowances constitute to 70 per cent of the gross emoluments.

“By affecting a cut only on allowances, the directors and senior management executives have deviously exempted themselves from any meaningful austerity cut as their allowances are extremely small while pilots and cabin crew who are the frontline warriors flying and risking their lives, are forced to bear the maximum cut,” the unions said in the letter.

It also said that the fact remains that the core of an airline is the airplanes and the staff who keep them flying and that every other department exists to support them in this endeavour.

“As you are aware, the flying allowance is not paid on-time. While all the other employees are paid in full, flying crew alone are made to bear the brunt with delayed flying allowance. Implementation of sham austerity measures to cut the flying allowances on top of all this would be adding insult to injury,” it said.

Reminding the management that “many flying crew” are held at “home quarantine/self-quarantine” after operating international and special flights, the unions said “one of our crew has been diagnosed COVID-19 positive and is hospitalised”.

The pilot unions, in the letter, also questioned the airline’s decision to enter into a contract with other countries to repatriate their citizens on commercial charters which does not come under the purview of the Essential Services Maintenance Act.

“We are hopeful you will treat all your employees equally. The pay cut on allowance is unequal, and not acceptable to us. We request you to advise the senior executive management to rise above self during these testing times, to draw up fair cost cutting measures and not to manipulate the system to safeguard their salaries by merely burdening the frontline soldiers of the national carrier,” the letter stated.

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