In a surprising move, Air India on Thursday sacked 48 pilots who resigned last year but withdrew their resignations within mandated six months notice period time. The pilots who have been served termination letter were employed in flying the Airbus 320 fleet of the airline. They have been reportedly given an equivalent of one month's salary.
In July 2019, these pilots had tendered their resignations, citing delay in payment of salaries and allowances. The withdrawal of the resignations of the pilots were duly accepted by the company earlier, which was revoked suddenly on Thursday night. Their services have been terminated with immediate effect on grounds of financial constraints and the impact of coronavirus on the commercial operation of the carrier.
"The current operations are a small fraction of pre-COVID level and is unlikely to increase in the near foreseeable future. The Company is incurring huge net losses and does not have the financial ability to pay," the letter said.
The state-owned carrier has cited a Supreme Court order dated August 22, 2019, in the termination letters to pilots. "The court while examining the notice period held that given the nature of pilots' job requiring long training periods and costs would fall in the exception and the general law on withdrawal of resignation would not apply to them. In view of the clear and unequivocal dicta of the Apex Court, the earlier acceptance of the withdrawal of resignation by the Company is dehors the law," the letter read.
As per India Today report, some of the sacked pilots flew on Friday not knowing their services were terminated last night itself.
Opposing the move, Indian Commercial Pilots' Association (ICPA) has now written a letter to Chairman and Managing Director of Air India, Rajiv Bansal, seeking "urgent intervention against illegal terminations of pilots".
"We have only recently written to you bringing to light the bias and excesses of the personnel department towards pilots. The ink is barely dry on that letter and the Personnel Department is once again running amok, breaking all rules and the Law of the land. Yesterday night, around 50 pilots have received illegal termination letters from Personnel Department in blatant violation of Company's Operation Manual and service rules," the pilots' body said.
"Pilots who tendered their resignations as far back as July 2019 but later withdrew them well within the mandatory 6 months' notice period have nevertheless been relieved from service suddenly starting from 10 p.m. last night. In fact the timely withdrawal has been acknowledged by the company in the termination letter dated 13.08.2020 which goes on to state 'the earlier acceptance of the withdrawal of resignation by the company is dehors the law'. How is this justified?" it added.
Last month, Air India had said that no employee will be laid off but it implemented some "rationalisation of allowances" in wake of the difficult financial conditions that were exacerbated by COVID-19. The country's largest airline had announced a reduction in the allowances of its employees, who have a monthly gross salary of more than Rs 25,000, by up to 50 per cent. The national carrier has a monthly wage bill of Rs 230 crore.
The aviation sector has been significantly impacted due to the travel restrictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Several airlines in India have taken cost-cutting measures such as pay cuts, leave-without-pay (LWP) and firing of employees in order to conserve cash.