Air India's cost-cutting measures such as pay cuts and compulsory leave without pay (LWP) scheme could have "potentially disastrous psychological impact" on some employees, a leading pilots' union of the airline said on Thursday. Moreover, more than 60 Air India pilots have tested COVID-19 positive till date, the Executive Pilots Association (EPA) told Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri in a letter.
Air India on Wednesday announced upto 50% reduction in monthly allowances of its employees, who have a gross monthly salary of more than Rs 25,000.
"We shudder to think of the kind of desperate and extreme acts that could be triggered off because of the prevailing situation as has been repeatedly proven many times in the past," the EPA said on Thursday.
"Our association is...extremely concerned about the potentially disastrous psychological impact that the massive forced pay cuts and Compulsory LWP scheme may create on some employees," it added.
The EPA termed the cuts in monthly allowances of pilots as "discriminatory, disproportionate and arbitrary".
In another step to rationalise staff costs, the airline issued an internal order on July 14 asking its departmental heads and regional directors to identify employees, based on various factors like efficiency, health and redundancy, who will be sent on compulsory leave without pay (LWP) for up to five years. Moreover, the carrier said employees can voluntarily opt for the LWP scheme too.
The EPA said the "adverse" policy decisions taken by Air India "pose an extremely serious and plausible threat to flight and public safety".
It also said: "As of date, at least 60 plus pilots have been tested COVID-positive. Furthermore, unlike other wars, the enemy has accompanied the warriors home to affect their family members with devastating effect."
At least one pilot has lost a family member to COVID-19 and those of many others have been infected, the EPA said.
"With a steady rise in cases, the situation can only get worse from now on," it added.
Defending the move, the airline said on Thursday that no employee of Air India will lose their job.
"Recent decisions of the Air India board regarding rationalization of staff cost were reviewed in a meeting at the Ministry of Civil Aviation this evening. The meeting reiterated that unlike other carriers which have laid off a large number of their employees, no employee of Air India will be laid off," the national carrier said on Twitter.
The airline said that there has been no reduction in basic pay, dearness allowance and house rent allowance. â€œThe rationalisation of allowances had to be implemented on account of the difficult financial condition of the airline that was exacerbated by COVID-19," the national carrier said.
The flying crew will be paid on the basis of the actual number of hours flown, it added.
"As domestic and international operations expand to reach pre-COVID levels and the financial position of Air India improves, the rationalization of allowances will be reviewed," the airline said.
Scheduled international passenger flights continue to remain suspended in India since March 23. However, Air India has been operating a significant number of special flights to and from countries around the world under the Vande Bharat Mission to help stranded people reach their destinations.
The aviation sector has been significantly impacted due to the travel restrictions imposed in India and other countries in view of the coronavirus pandemic.
However, the airlines have been allowed to operate only a maximum of 45% of their pre-COVID domestic flights. Occupancy rate in Indian domestic flights has been around just 50-60% since May 25.
The national carrier has a debt of around Rs 70,000 crore and the government started the process to sell it to a private entity in January. Air India's net loss in 2018-19 was around Rs 8,500 crore.
With PTI inputs