Any unilateral change by Air India in the salaries of pilots would be illegal and has the potential to flare up into a situation of "unprecedented magnitude", said the ICPA, one of the airline's pilot unions, on Monday.
In a letter to Air India Chairman and Managing Director Rajiv Bansal, the ICPA said, "In the press conference by Honourable Minister Shri Hardeep Singh Puri dated 16th July 2020, you had stated 'we are in negotiation with the pilots', which is far from reality."
"It was not a negotiation, but the 'diktat' of the MoCA (ministry of civil aviation) which was conveyed to us. We would also like to place on record that the so-called negotiation was 'not harmonious' in any aspect," the Indian Commercial Pilots' Association (ICPA) noted.
Air India has proposed a 60 per cent salary cut for pilots amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected 55 of its cockpit crew members, the ICPA and the Indian Pilots' Guild (IPG) had said in their joint letter to Bansal last week.
"The proposed cut for pilots is almost 60 per cent of gross emoluments. It is hilarious to note that the top management has proposed a meagre 3.5 per cent cut on its own gross salary," the joint letter had said.
"Any unilateral change by Air India from agreed upon wage settlement would be illegal and will not be in the interest of our national carrier at this crucial juncture. Such a situation has the potential to flare-up to an unprecedented magnitude," the ICPA stated in its letter to Bansal on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Air India issued an internal order on July 14 asking its departmental heads and regional directors to identify employees, based on various factors like efficiency, health and redundancy, who will be sent on compulsory leave without pay (LWP) for up to five years. Moreover, it said employees can voluntarily opt for the LWP scheme too.
Equity infusion of Rs 500-600 crore every year is not sustainable and cost-cutting in Air India is necessary, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri had said on July 16, justifying the national carrier's decision to send certain employees on leave without pay for up to five years.
Air India had said on July 17 that its financial situation is very challenging due to the coronavirus pandemic and its leave without pay scheme for employees is a "win-win" for them as well as the management.
The aviation sector has been significantly impacted due to the travel restrictions imposed in India and other countries in view of the Covid-19 pandemic. All airlines in India have taken cost-cutting measures such as pay cuts, LWP and firings of employees in order to conserve cash flow.
Air India has a debt of around Rs 70,000 crore and the government started the process to sell it to a private entity in January this year. The national carrier's net loss in 2018-19 was around Rs 8,500 crore.
Photograph: Shailesh Andrade/Reuters.