Business Standard

Pilots union sends legal notice to Air India over revised service agreement

Union not in favour of forced promotion to management cadre; wants pilots to remain protected under labour law

Air India

Photo: Bloomberg

Deepak Patel New Delhi

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Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA), a pilots union at Air India, on Friday sent a legal notice to the airline for allegedly coercing its members individually to sign revised service agreements.

Also, ICPA and another union Indian Pilots Guild (IPG) on Friday sent a letter to Tata Sons Chairman N Chandrasekaran for “personal intervention against HR (human resources) is exploitation of Air Indians”. 

Air India's HR team had on April 16 and 17 sent emails to members of ICPA stating that each of them is being promoted to the position of "senior commander", making them eligible to monthly "management allowance" and responsible to "management duties".

"ICPA's members do not want to be forcibly promoted to management cadre and wish to retain their present designations and roles – and coverage under and protection of labour law. The so-called ‘promotion’ is merely a smokescreen to remove the members from the category of ‘workmen’, and consequently from the protection of all labour law, and therefore, is utterly illegal and cannot be foisted on them unilaterally," the legal notice stated.

Whatever label Air India chooses to give this exercise, in essence, what the airline is doing is "coercing the workmen" -- members of the ICPA -- to enter into an individual settlement or agreement about their terms and conditions of service, the notice stated. "This can not be done in law," it added.

Indian courts have consistently held that -- except in matters of termination or discharge from service of an individual workman -- there cannot be any individual settlement or agreement entered into between a management and an individual workman, the notice mentioned.

The notice -- which was sent by Supreme Court Advocate Bharat Gupta to Air India's Chief Human Resources Officer Suresh Dutt Tripathi -- asked the airline to ensure that "no such unilateral change is attempted, nor any of the so-called individual agreements are implemented, failing which, I am instructed by my client (ICPA) to take all steps open to my client to proceed against Air India, which shall be at Air India’s risk and cost".

Air India did not immediately respond to Business Standard's request for a statement on this matter.

On Monday, the airline announced a new salary structure for its pilots and cabin crew. Guaranteed flying allowance for pilots has been doubled to 40 hours. A service reward has been introduced for pilots based on years in service, other allowances have been enhanced and travel policy is being proposed.

Pilots however expressed their disappointment with the revisions in an online meeting held on Tuesday. The meeting was attended by approximately 1,000 pilots of all the Tata Group-run airlines.

ICPA and IPG on Wednesday asked their members not to accept the revised compensation and employment offer and have dubbed the management’s proposals as “unfair labour practices.” They have said any coercion on pilots to sign the offer would lead to industrial unrest.

In their letter to Chandrasekaran on Friday, these two unions stated: “We earnestly implore the respected Chairman to intervene and rectify the situation before it deteriorates any further…It is imperative that the spiteful ideology of the HR department be addressed promptly to prevent any potential adverse effects on the growth prospects of our esteemed airline.”

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First Published: Apr 21 2023 | 9:18 PM IST

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