AI austerity measures abusing employees in guise of pandemic: Pilots

New Delhi: MoS for Housing & Urban Affairs, Civil Aviation (Independent Charge) and Commerce and Industry Hardeep Singh Puri addresses at the presentation of the 50th EEPC India National Export Awards, in New Delhi on Dec 10, 2019. (Photo: IANS/PIB)

New Delhi, July 24 (IANS) Air India pilots unions have termed the airline’s austerity measures as an “agenda of abusing employees under the guise of this epidemic”.

Accordingly, the Indian Commercial Pilots’ Association and the Indian Pilots’ Guild have jointly alleged the airline has shielded the top management’s salaries and perks, while justifiably deducting the same of pilots and other employees.

The allegations come after Air India instituted a massive cut in employee allowances even as protests from all sections of the employees continued.

In a letter written to Air India CMD Rajiv Bansal which was reviewed by IANS, both the unions jointly said: “At present, there seems to be a complete disconnect between what the management is saying and how it is behaving. For the past few months, we are been told on a repeating loop that Air India’s finances are in dire straits, there is no money coming in from the government and drastic cost-cutting is required else the airline will have to be shut down.”

“However, this doomsaying seems to be reserved for pilots alone. Till date, the management is yet to come with a meaningful austerity measure that even dents the perks and privileges being enjoyed by the senior Air India officials.”

As per the letter, 50 per cent cut for senior AI officials is only on “Other Allowances”, which equates to an approximate 10 per cent pay cut on the gross salary for the ‘Director Personnel’ who is also a ‘Functional Director’.

“This is a deliberate whitewash to shield top management from any significant pay reduction.”

The letter detailed that ‘Executive Directors’ are eligible for 140 liters of fuel per month, while ‘Functional Directors’ are eligible for 270 liters of fuel per month.

“The fuel expense for these 2 categories alone runs into approx Rs 30 lakh per annum,” the letter said.

“As per cost cutting measures circular, fuel reimbursement will stand reduced by 10 per cent. This is an insignificant cut on a completely frivolous entitlement which serves to highlight the senior management’s self-serving approach instead of meaningful cost cutting measures.”

According to the unions, Air India provides Elite Corporate Club Membership at company expense to the Functional Directors in high end exclusive clubs.

“This is an unwarranted financial burden on the National Carrier and completely unjustified in the face of such drastic austerity measures being levied on employees to supposedly save the national carrier. Is it fair for these officials to safeguard their generous perks and salaries while burdening the frontline workers with a huge pay cut of up to 70 per cent?”

“This lavish perk for Functional Directors is conveniently ignored in the Austerity Measures as this privilege is deemed more important than reducing expenditure.”

Besides, the letter pointed out that around 63 cars are provided on lease for Functional Directors, Executive Directors, Regional Directors and GMs.

“Average lease rent per car per month as per market rates would be around Rs 24,000. This estimates close to Rs 2 crore per annum. Conveniently, this too is not re-examined in any ‘austerity measures’,” the letter said.

“The factors of ‘Redundancy and Efficiency’ as per compulsory leave without pay scheme should first apply to the officials of the senior management from 2016, who are directly responsible for the bungled decision making that has seen Air India losses mount year after year, from Rs 48,000 crore in 2017 to Rs 70,000 crore.”

In addition, the unions said that it is not only unprincipled for the senior officials to exclude their perks, eligibilities and entitlements from the austerity measures but also irrefutable proof that the intent of the management cost cutting measures is to further the “agenda of abusing employees under the guise of this epidemic”.

On Thursday, the national carrier said it will review the revision in wages along with Leave without Pay scheme after the airline’s operations expand and finances improve.

A review meeting was also held at the Ministry of Civil Aviation on these measures.

“Flying crew will be paid as per the actual number of hours flown. As domestic and international operations expand to reach pre-COVID levels and the financial position of Air India improves, the rationalisation of allowances will be reviewed,” Air India said in a tweet on Thursday.

“Unlike other carriers which have laid off large number of their employees, no employee of Air India will be laid off.”

The airline said that there has been no reduction in the basic pay, DA and HRA of any category of employees.

The rationalisation of allowances had to be implemented on account of the difficult financial condition of the airline that was exacerbated by COVID-19, it said.

Air India has instituted a massive cut in employee allowances even as protests from all sections of the employees continued.

As per an office order, this has been done as per the directions of the Ministry of Civil Aviation and following approval from the Board of Directors of Air lndia Ltd. The rationalisation of allowances will be effective from April 1, 2020 and shall remain in force till further review by the Air lndia Board.

Consequently, the rate of allowances other than DPE allowances will stand reduced by 40 per cent of the approved allowances.

These include flying allowance, executive flying allowance, special pay wide body allowance, domestic layover allowance, quick return allowance, high altitude allowance, check allowance, instructor allowance, examiner allowance and additional landing allowance.

Last week, the airline cited challenging financial situation for implementing the LWP scheme.

The LWP scheme provides the opportunity to employees to take up alternative employment with the approval of the management during the period of the said leave.

“The only addition in this scheme as compared to the earlier LWP scheme is that the management can pass an order requiring the employees to go on leave for a period of six months or two years (extendable up to 5 years) compulsorily, taking into consideration suitability, efficiency, competence, quality of performance, health, non-availability of employee and redundancy,” the airline had said in a statement.

Air India said that this provision has been introduced for use “very sparingly”, with a view to ensure that the overall efficiency of the organisation improves.

The said provision authorises the CMD to pass an order on behalf and in the name of the company whereby an employee could be sent on leave for six months or for a period of two years extendable up to five years.

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