Aviation Minister Defends Air India's Decision to Furlough Workers, Cut Pay By 60%

The Indian Commercial Pilots Association said that while the cut for the crew is 60%, the senior management is only taking a 3.5% cut.

Civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri today justified state-owned airline Air India’s decision to send some employees on leave-without-pay for up to five years.

“Equity infusion of Rs 500-600 crore every year is not a sustainable thing to run an airline now. Everybody has to cut costs. That is what is happening here,” Puri said.

However, Air India pilots have opposed the move by the airline to send some employees on furlough and slash their wages by 60%. Air India pilots’ union Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) has said that while the cut for the crew is 60%, the senior management is only taking a 3.5% cut.

The pay cut and the sending of some 600 employees on a furlough of up to five years form part of a cost reduction exercise that the financially sick airline has taken, with its condition worsening due to the pandemic which has hit the aviation and travel sectors hard.

“We have expressed our willingness to negotiate a pay cut in line with the current market conditions … The proposed cut for pilots is almost 60% of gross emoluments. It is hilarious to note that the top management has proposed a meagre 3.5% cut on its own gross salary … How is this justified?” ICPA said in a letter to the management Thursday.

The pilots’ union said that 55 of the airline’s pilots have been infected by coronavirus while carrying out repatriation flights, and slashing their salary retrospectively will be unfair.

“Is it fair to penalise these pilots by saying that they will be paid on actual flying hours? They are unable to fly as they contracted the coronavirus while on duty. Is this how the government wants to honour frontline workers,” the letter said.

On being asked about the opposition from employees, Puri said if shuts down, none of the employees will get a job.

“Today, there is a surplus of aircraft, there is a surplus of trained people available and it is a strain all airlines are facing. All airlines are indulging in this thing. Leave airline operations to those who know how to run an airline,” Puri said.

Rajiv Bansal, Air India’s chairman and managing director, said the company is also negotiating with aircraft lessors, hotels and vendors, in order to pare costs further.

(By arrangement with Business Standard)