Budget carrier SpiceJet, which had resorted to hourly-basis pay for pilots amid the pandemic, on Sunday said it has introduced a new "interim fixed salary system" for captains and first officers. The airline said not only will pilot salaries "increase significantly" under the new pay structure but those who fly more than the stipulated minimum hours will be paid overtime.
However, some pilots contested the assurance given by SpiceJet and claimed "stress" due to the continued reduction in their salaries implemented in April last year. The pilots claimed that they were being paid a third or a half of their pre-COVID-19 salaries despite the company achieving an occupancy rate of over 85 per cent on passenger flights and being among the largest air cargo carriers during the pandemic.
The Gurgaon-headquartered airline said it had adopted a "block hour payment system" after the COVID-19 outbreak effective April 1, 2020, wherein pilots were paid based on the hourly flying rate without having to send anyone on 'leave without pay'.
"While many other airlines and organisations severed employee contracts during the pandemic, there was no retrenchment in SpiceJet," a Spicejet spokesperson told PTI. "The migration to the block hour payment model was expected to be short-lived. However, the second wave of COVID-19 has delayed the implementation of our 'normal' salary structure," the spokesperson said.
An interim "fixed salary system" effective September 1, 2021, has now been implemented to provide better pay-out, said SpiceJet two days after it sent out an e-mail to all pilots announcing the change.
The objectives of the new system, it said, are having a pay structure that reflects fixed salary components and other relevant components. It will also enable payment of a fixed minimum salary to all available pilots and those who fly more than the stipulated minimum hours will be paid overtime, it added.
"The company will be paying higher amount under the interim fixed salary system and this has been done keeping in mind the welfare of the greater pilot community," SpiceJet said.
Contesting the company's claims on retrenchment, a SpiceJet insider said dozens of expat pilots, including captains, and some Indian pilots, who had put in their resignations, were sacked shortly after the pandemic outbreak.
"The expats were sacked hurriedly while the Indian pilots were not even asked to reconsider their decision of resignation. This does not happen usually," a pilot said on the condition of anonymity.
Another senior pilot said, "Along with the hourly payments, we were promised a fixed monthly salary when the salaries were restructured in April last year. This fixed salary was very less for both what a captain and a first officer normally get."
"However, we never got that fixed salary. Now, it's a huge amount for many of us which is pending. The company also never mentions it in person or on e-mails. There is no word if we will even be getting that hard-earned money ever," he said.
He added that many are under stress due to this continued reduction of salary. "Some of my colleagues have left the company due to financial pressure, while some are trying hard to make ends meet."
Responding to this claim, SpiceJet spokesperson said there are "no huge pending salary arrears". All pending payments are kept as "outstanding payable" and are being paid in tranches, the spokesperson said.
Multiple pilots from different regions that PTI spoke to denied having received any such arrear or part of it to date. They also claimed that the overtime allowances as per the new structure will also mean that those who fly more hours will end up getting lesser salaries than they got earlier in the hourly system.
However, SpiceJet refuted this claim terming it as "practically impossible" and an attempt "to mislead and twist facts".
"As per the new structure, more than 90 per cent of the pilots will be getting a higher salary as compared to the existing block hour payment structure," it added.
It added that with the total number of flying hours gradually increasing, all pilots will be getting much more salary in the new structure.
Another pilot, who is in his 30s, said, "If you talk to the company officials, they will always confuse you with technicalities and statistics. Just find out the condition of pilots and how they are managing EMIs, home expenses, etc."
"We have lost our seniority (salary-structure on the basis of work experience)," he added.