Pay cuts can trigger 'desperate, extreme acts': Air India pilots to govt

FILE PHOTO: A special Air India flight for repatriation of stranded Indian nationals leaves from Paris Charles de Gaulle airport for Kochi, in Paris
Air India’s (AI’s) seniormost pilots in a letter to Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri warned that “massive forced paycuts” and compulsory leave without pay (LWP) schemes could have a “potentially disastrous psychological impact” on employees.

Saying that 60 pilots who operated repatriation flights under the government’s Vande Bharat Mission had been infected by the virus, the pilots said employees may be forced to challenge the decision in court, which might be a hurdle for the privatisation process.

“A rising stack of litigations and financial liabilities arising out of pending financial dues owed to employees could potentially destroy our organisation’s future health, and would be unfairly transferred to any prospective buyer,” the Executive Pilots Association wrote.

Under such a heavy protest from employees, the Centre on Thursday said no Air India employee would be laid off. However, the union of pilots said a five-year leave without pay was as good as retrenchment.

AI has begun a cost-cutting drive that includes reduction in salary for pilots and sending around 600 employees on furlough.

The board approved the scheme of ‘Leave Without Pay’ on July 7, ranging from 6 months up to 5 years. The scheme is voluntary but if it fails to get a good response, the board has authorised Chairman and Managing Director Rajiv Bansal to forcibly send employees on leave.

“Recent decisions of the AI board regarding rationalisation of staff cost were reviewed in a meeting of the Ministry of Civil Aviation. The meeting reiterated that unlike other carriers that have laid off a large number of employees, no AI employee will be laid off,” the airline, on behalf of the government, said in a statement.

On Monday, IndiGo had said 10 per cent of its workforce would be laid off.

Besides leave without pay, the airline has announced reduction in monthly allowances of employees who have a monthly gross salary of above Rs 25,000, by up to 50 per cent.

The airline explained that rationalisation of allowances had to be implemented on account of the difficult financial condition exacerbated by Covid-19, adding that original salaries would be restored once the situation improved.

There has been no reduction in basic pay, DA (dearness allowance) and HRA (house rent allowance) of any category of employees. Flying crew will be paid according to actual hours flown, against the current norm of fixed pay for 70 hours.

The airline, which has been identified by the Centre for privatisation, has accumulated debt of Rs 69,576 crore. It posted loss of Rs 8,556 crore in FY19, as against a net loss of Rs 5,348 crore in the previous financial year.

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