The proposal to privatise Air India is a welcome move but salary arrears should be settled first as promised earlier, feel pilots at the national carrier. Facing tough financial conditions, Air India had resorted to salary cuts in 2012. Since then, arrears have been accumulating even as certain section of employees accepted revised pay scales.
The arrears to be paid to the 27,000-odd staff of Air India that includes pilots and cabin crew are estimated to be around Rs 1,200 crore. Out of the total amount, about Rs 400 crore is due for pilots, according to a senior pilot.
When Ashwani Lohani took over the reins of the ailing carrier nearly two years ago, he had assured that all pending dues would be paid in a phased manner.
Now, as the government looks at privatisation and other options to revive the airline, pilots want the salary dues to be cleared first before any decision is taken at the highest level amid uncertainty over the future course of action. “We are looking forward to the privatisation of Air India. We are very pleased by this news and we hope that a professional management takes over. We want to work in an environment where there isn’t too much government interference,” a representative of the Indian Pilots’ Guild said.
Before privatisation happens, “our dues have to be cleared,” he said. The Guild, comprising pilots of wide-bodied aircraft, has around 500 members.
Echoing similar sentiments, a representative of Indian Commercial Pilots’ Association (ICPA) said having a professional management could help in the airline’s revival. “If Air India is going to be privatised then we will take up the issue of our dues,” he said.
The ICPA, which claims to have more than 1,000 members, represents the pilots of narrow-bodied planes. According to the pilots, if the government privatises the airline they would like to start on a “clean slate” rather than just “outsourcing the current problems” such as salary arrears to the new investor. “This is a problem created by the management and they have to first resolve the issue,” the pilot from IPG said.
While discussions are still at initial stages on the way forward for the debt-laden Air India, sections of employees seem to be on different pages when it comes to the idea of privatisation. Earlier this month, seven unions of Air India employees warned of large scale protests if the government went ahead with privatisation of the airline.
The government think tank NITI Aayog has suggested complete privatisation of the airline, which has a debt burden of over Rs 52,000 crore. The ministry of civil aviation is looking at ways to revive Air India, which is surviving on Rs 30,000 crore bailout package extended by the previous UPA regime.