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Business News/ Companies / News/  Air India pilots resist contracts that cut pay

As Air India rolls out new contracts for its pilots, many are pushing back against the proposed changes to their flying hours and salaries. While more than half of the pilots have accepted the new terms, a significant portion of pilots are reportedly rejecting new contracts that would reduce their flying hours and, in turn, their take-home salaries.

“About 50% have signed the new contract terms, and more should follow. But there remains a large chunk who are yet to accept the offers. So the message from the top brass is clear that there will not be extensions or any other options given," a person aware of the developments said, requesting anonymity.

As Air India seeks to revamp its operations, the airline is clashing with pilots over new contract terms at a time it’s facing a significant shortage of pilots. Air India has warned pilots that delays in licence renewal or airport entry passes could result in disciplinary action and financial penalties, heightening tensions between the airline and its workforce.

“Pilots have stated their disappointment with the new terms and conditions by writing to all the senior executives at the Tata group, including chairman emeritus Ratan Tata. While the leadership is looking to resolve the matter amicably, they are also clear that they will not completely agree with the pilots’ demands," a person in the know said.

The Tata group asked the pilots to initiate the documentation for renewal at least 45 days before the expiry of their licence after several pilots did not complete the required documentation. “In spite of such repeated reminders, some crew are not doing the needful, which is leading to delay in their licence related issues and are becoming unavailable to the company for performing their duties, which leads company no other choice but to take some strict action against the individual crew member," the airline told pilots in an e-mail this week.

The latest tussle in the now Tata group-owned airlines started when the company redesigned its salary structure for its cabin crews and pilots and rolled out the new structures last month. Two pilots’ unions—Indian Commercial Pilots Association and Indian Pilots Guild—rejected the new contracts on the grounds of an alleged violation of labour practices, the new promotion cycles were not accepted, and they were not consulted while finalizing the new contracts.

An Air India pilot can earn 50,000- 8.5 lakh per month, while for cabin crew it is 25,000- 78,000. However, this does not include payments for additional flying hours and layover, among others.

As part of its expansion plans and to prepare for pilot exits, the airlines will hire more than 1,000 pilots, including captains and trainers. In February, the airline announced plans to recruit over 4,200 cabin crew trainees and 900 pilots in 2023 to start new domestic and international operations.

The announcement followed a mammoth order from Air India for 470 aircraft from Boeing and Airbus to add wings to its growth plans. The airline also has the option to buy 370 more planes under the agreement signed with aircraft manufacturers. Since Tatas took over Air India, it decided to align the benefits and salaries of its staff. The airline, which until a year ago had around 8,000 permanent employees, is also looking to bring it down by another 2,000 as part of a second voluntary retirement scheme (VRS). About 1,500 employees opted for the first VRS in July 2022.

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Devina Sengupta
Devina Sengupta reports on the shifts in India Inc’s workplaces, HR policies and writes about the developments at India’s biggest conglomerates. Her stories over the last decade have been picked up and followed by Indian and international news outlets. She joined Mint in 2022 and previously worked with The Economic Times and DNA-Money.
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Updated: 03 May 2023, 06:42 AM IST
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