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Air India Pilot unions threaten industrial action from December 1

The unions want what they call an 'illegal pay cut of 55%' as well as longstanding issues around the airline’s divestment to be addressed within three days

November 30, 2021 / 02:34 PM IST
Representative Image

Representative Image

The Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) and Indian Pilots Guild have threatened “industrial action” from December 1 if the “illegal pay cut of 55 per cent” and “plethora of longstanding disinvestment issues” are not addressed within three days by Air India.

There are about 1,000 pilots in the two unions, and any industrial action will affect both domestic and international operations.

Recently, the Tata group emerged as the top bidder for full ownership of the national carrier.

“With the resumption of scheduled commercial international passenger services to/ from India from December 15th, 2021, and all airlines rolling back the COVID cut, If we do not see the issues related to an illegal pay cut of 55 per cent and the plethora of longstanding disinvestment issues addressed within three days we will have no choice but to seek justice through ‘Industrial Action,’” ICPA and IPG said in a letter dated November 29 to former Air India Chairman and Managing Director and current Civil Aviation Secretary Rajiv Bansal.

Sources said that notice of 14 days — and not three days — has to be given for industrial action.

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ICPA and IPG had written a similar letter on November 17.

ICPA represents the narrow-body pilots of Air India, who primarily operate the airline’s Airbus A320 fleet, while IPG represents pilots who fly the wide-body Boeing 777 and Boeing 787, which the airline uses for long-haul flights to Europe, the US, Canada and Australia.

Normally, industrial action means that the pilots could go on work to rule (strictly go by the book on timings and rules), which could reduce efficiency and disrupt Air India’s domestic and international operations.

Pilots who operate Air India’s long-haul flights say the decision to cut their pay is wrong, noting how they had risked their lives and flew to Covid-hit countries at the height of the pandemic.

The pilots say that Air India did not consider the risks they exposed themselves to (five pilots died during these evacuation flights) and instead went in for pay cuts in April 2020. The pilots claim that in July 2020, their salaries were cut with retrospective effect, also covering the period when they flew the evacuation flights during the pandemic.

The pilots operated flights to various countries, including Italy and the UK, when the pandemic was spreading earlier this year.

According to the pilots, the last time they got their full salaries was March 2020.

A query sent to Air India on what impact the industrial action could have on flight schedules or whether the pilots’ demands  were being considered did not immediately elicit a response.
Ashwini Phadnis is a senior journalist based in New Delhi.
first published: Nov 29, 2021 10:52 pm
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