Air India staff now supports privatisation but seeks salary dues

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The pilots have asked the airline to clear long due salary arrears before the move

In a course correction move, Air India is looking at privatisation for the company that has been bearing losses and debts for quite a while now. With that, the staff has also been on a roller coaster ride, as those who offered to sacrifice their allowances and bonuses only a few days back hoping to help the public carrier, are now seeking positivity in the decision to privatise the company. At the same time, the pilots have asked the airline to clear its long due salary arrears before the move.

Back in 2012, Air India had resorted to salary cuts, owing to financial difficulties. The arrears have been due since then. The arrears to be paid to the 27,000-odd staff of Air India that includes pilots and cabin crew are amounting to around Rs 1,200 crore, out of which about Rs 400 crore is apparently due for pilots.

When Ashwani Lohani took over as the CMD of the ailing carrier nearly two years ago, he had assured that all pending dues would be paid in a phased manner. However, there hasn’t been much progress on that front. 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.

In addition, the Indian Pilots’ Guild admits that it is happy with the news and hopes that a professional management takes over. It now wishes to work in an environment with lesser or no government interference

The Guild, comprising pilots of wide-bodied aircraft, has around 500 members. Echoing similar sentiments, the Indian Commercial Pilots’ Association (ICPA) said that professional management could help in the airline’s revival. The ICPA, which claims to have more than 1,000 members, represents the pilots of narrow-bodied planes.

The pilots are of the consensus that 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. Earlier this month, seven unions of Air India employees even 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 more than Rs 52,000 crore.

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