New Delhi: A day after the Air India pilot unions’ Indian Pilots’ Guild and Indian Commercial Pilots’ Association sought the Civil Aviation ministry’s intervention on the wage cut issue on 30 November, The Sunday Guardian spoke to the affected pilots on the issue. In a letter to Civil Aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri, the unions had requested for an “urgent” meeting with him on several other issues. The pilots, requesting anonymity, told The Sunday Guardian that the management has drastically reduced the flying allowance, which is an important part of the salary, since the pandemic.
According to the letter to Hardeep Singh Puri, the unions had said, “In our meetings in September, you had given us an assurance to look into our grievances positively. While other airlines are rolling back the austerity pay cuts for their pilots, the wage cut for Air India pilots further increased from October. This is completely divorced from market reality and equally unfair to pilots of Air India and its subsidiaries.”
A pilot from the Indian Pilots’ Guild told The Sunday Guardian, “During the pandemic, the crew members of Air India evacuated Non-Resident Indians (NRI), not the management. During this process, around 400 crew members were infected with Covid-19.”
On the question of wage cut, the pilot said, “In July, the Ministry of Civil Aviation issued a notification informing the pilots of a 70% cut in wages. Our wages comprise 70% flying allowances and the rest is salary. During the pandemic, if the pilot falls sick or gets infected with the virus, he/she will not get the wages, though we have pending leaves to our credit. Though the notification was issued in July, the management deducted our wages from April. Between April and July, they made us work for free and since August, they paid us reduced wages.”
He further said, “In a meeting with the minister in August, the officials said that the cut in the wages will be there only for the period of six months. The pilots are eligible for a 70% pay cut while the top managements only for 10%. This is not a fair deal.”
The pilots further told The Sunday Guardian that if the Air India management does not have money to pay its pilots due to huge debt, then how fair it is that the employee should bear the entire wage cut and not the management. A pilot said, “We all want to save the cash-strapped national carrier. But it is not our responsibility. It is the responsibility of the management. The management has to find the solution for it. We have a family, and the pay cut is adversely affecting us. Several pilots had defaulted in loan repayment, school fees and other expenses.”
Repeated calls to Deputy General Managers (Corporate Communication) Aruna Gopalakrishnan and Sameek Bhattacharya went unanswered.
The Indian Commercial Pilots Association represents the pilots flying Air India’s narrow-body aircraft, while the Indian Pilots Guild represents those who operate wide-body aircraft of the national carrier.