Air India is getting stuck having their Human Resources agree to the airline’s new compensation structure rolled out earlier this month. And now, it seems, they’ve finally come around to the table to talk to their pilots after stiff resistance from their end to the new offer being rolled out.
Air India’s new compensation structure
On April 17, 2023, Air India rolled out a revamped compensation structure for its pilots and cabin crew, which the unions have since opposed. The new compensation structure said the pilots would be compensated per a base salary and a minimum of 40 hours of flying allowance.
The airline has also hiked the pilots’ per-hour flying allowance, besides increasing a few other allowances, like those for international layovers and operating wide-body jets. Also, pilots undergoing training, such as those for command upgrade and conversion, will receive additional compensation.
Air India has also indicated they are introducing two new pilot designation levels: junior first officer and senior commander. Pilots who have flown for at least four years as commanders will be made senior commanders, thereby including them in Air India’s management cadre and making them eligible for additional allowances for executive duties.
The contentious issues
During Covid-19 related cutbacks, this guaranteed flying allowance was cut to 20 hours of flying time. However, the few pilots we talked to uniformly told us that 70 hours is the usual amount paid to them pre-covid and that showing a hike from 20 to 40 is not exactly a step up for the pilot compensation.
Beyond this, there are other issues at hand, where Air India’s unions, the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) and Indian Pilots Guild (IPG) want to be on the table on behalf of the pilots; however, Air India/Tata group claims that they are not the recognised unions for the airline. The unions have been representing the interests of the pilots for a very long time, and one union came into being at Air India and the other at Indian Airlines. The ICPA & IPG say that over 1,000 pilots attended their online meeting on April 18.
Air India unions send legal notice to Air India, claiming that “These terms and conditions are not acceptable to us, and we will contest this travesty using any and all avenues available to us. Our member pilots will not sign these unilateral revised terms of employment and compensation. Any coercive steps or victimisation by the company against our member pilots to sign these draconian terms and compensation will lead to Industrial Unrest.”
The new contract has offered Air India pilots a promotion to Senior Commander, making them a member of the management. However, if they accept the new “promotion”, they lose their workman status and hence, their right to unionise.
You can read the full notice below.
Air India’s response
Air India has not acknowledged the role of unions in the collective bargaining process. It is trying to get the sizeable number of pilots it has to sign the contracts individually. However, the deadline for signing the contract passed on April 24, 2023. Now, the Air India senior management, including the CEO, is organising a town hall for the employees trying to address their concerns. A similar town hall has already happened with Air India Express. Per many news reports, Air India has stated that many members of the pilot strength of the airline have signed on to the new Terms.
Air India Group is in the process of harmonising the cadres of pilots who have come together through various amalgamations of the airline over the years. The union does not like the current contract and wants to bargain for more. Their members have been advised not to accept the new proposed contract, and the unions have advised Air India that they are going to “go to any extent” to protect the interests of their members. However, Air India claims they do not recognise the unions. Now, Air India is organising meetings with the employees to hear them out.
As you can note, this is a classic bargaining attempt by the airline. Do you think this will close this month, or will there be grievances?
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