Maintain paycut parity across all employees: Air India pilots to management

The pilots believe the lower grade of employees should be fully protected from the cuts.
As the extent of the crisis in the airline sector becomes visible and felt by all, the paycuts being imposed by the Air India management have been attacked by pilots as unfair. The ‘disproportionate’ cuts to variable allowances have become a sticking point between the two sides.  

So far, the senior management has borne a very small percentage of the cuts. Whether it is the CMD, the head of finance or the head of HR, the paycut is between 1.5 per cent and 2 per cent. For pilots, it is 30 per cent. As things stand, roughly 10 per cent of the total employees are bearing the brunt of the pay reductions.  

The paycuts protect the basic pay, house rent allowance, and other benefits that comprise a large portion of the management’s salaries. But they reduce all variable and flying allowances by 40-60 per cent. It is these allowances that comprise a large portion of the pilots’ take-home. 

As a result, the salary of commanders and co-pilots has been reduced by 30-35 per cent. 

Air India pilots are paid for 70 hours regardless of how much they fly. Over and above 70 hours is paid through overtime.

A senior manager — whose salary slip was reviewed by Business Standard — earning a basic pay of Rs 66,010 (DA of Rs 1,03,833) and gross salary of just over Rs 2 lakh, faces a Rs 3,300 pay cut. In addition, a 10 per cent cut will be applicable on fuel reimbursements. The total cut of Rs 4,300 on a gross salary of Rs 2.15 lakh amounts to merely 1.72 per cent.

As it becomes clear that the cuts need to be deepened, the pilots’ unions allege the management is seeking to spare itself further pain, while asking commanders, pilots, and senior cabin crew to take a bigger hit.   

A senior airline executive said that further paycuts for all could not be avoided as, this time around, the “government too is broke, not just the airline”. He pointed out that all the “paycut discussions are currently in the realm of theory”, as many categories of employees had not even been paid since April.

With salary cuts becoming a flashpoint between the management and pilot unions, the latter have two demands. One is for the paycuts to be equally applicable across all employees, as has happened with other airlines. 

In most private carriers, including IndiGo, most of the pain of paycuts has been borne by the top management and those at the top of the pyramid.  

In IndiGo, those earning over Rs 50 lakh have seen a paycut of around 30 per cent and the cuts get steeper the higher one goes up in the hierarchy.  

Air India pilots want parity with private carriers, for cuts across the board. For example, everyone should be asked to take leave without pay, including pilots and this can be built into their rosters, as private airlines do. In fact, the pilots believe the lower grade of employees should be fully protected from the cuts, a decision that has been taken by Vistara, IndiGo, SpiceJet, and others.

In response, Air India management sources say the airline’s situation is not comparable to private carriers as even the Air India CMD earns only what vice-presidents in private carriers earn. “It’s not an apple to apple comparison. Our top management is paid a fraction of what the private airlines pay,” said a senior management official in the HRD department. 

He said many senior managers are based in Mumbai and given high rentals in the city, it was not feasible for them to take a much steeper cut. Further, he said, the airline was going by the government’s Department of Public Enterprises guidelines. 

This cuts no ice with pilots. “The pain should be shared equally by all in a situation like this and should be fairly distributed across categories, barring the lowest paid employees,” said Praveen Keerti, general secretary of the Indian Commercial Pilots Association. 

Pilots add that the situation is more precarious for them as they are putting themselves (and their families) at a greater risk than anyone in management. Over 50 pilots and cabin crew across stations have tested Covid positive since the pandemic began.

The unions’ second demand is for Air India to rationalise and cut the flab across departments. They point out that the finance and HR departments have 1,600 employees for a fleet of 125 aircraft whereas IndiGo, by contrast, has a much smaller team for 262 aircraft.

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