Join Date: Jul 2008
Location: Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
A Pilots Blog?
A colleague of mine from India posted this link.
A good link . Applicable in all parts of the world.
HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF : OWNERS HAVE A “ASSOCIATION” BUT WORKERS CANNOT HAVE A UNION
Adam Smith an Economist of 18th century wrote “We rarely hear, it has been said, of the combination of masters, though frequently of those of workmen. But whoever imagines, upon this account, that masters rarely combine, is as ignorant of the world as of the subject. Masters are always and everywhere in a sort of tacit, but constant and uniform combination, not to raise the wages of labor above their actual rate[.]
When workers combine, masters ... never cease to call aloud for the assistance of the civil magistrate, and the rigorous execution of those laws which have been enacted with so much severity against the combination of servants, laborers, and journeymen.” “Journeymen” of 18th century are the drivers, conductors and pilots of 21st cetury/
Even today the quote is very relevant.
Today, all the private Airlines Owners have joined together to form a union.
Kingfisher and Jet have additionally formed a “Strategic Alliance”
The adverse effect on this cartelisation by owners on the conditions of service of Aviation sector employees is apparent. Some, which are relevant to flight crew are discussed below.
(a) Salary Stagnation
(i) The salaries of flight crew have remained stagnant over the last five years. In real terms, the salary has reduced as no increment has been provided to compensate for the inflation. I have calculated and realised that if a pilot was drawing a salary of Rs 430000 five years back and inflation rate is assumed to be 7% per year, then today the salary should be Rs 560000 if the inflation remains factored. Alternatively, if the salary remains fixed at Rs 430000 for all the five years then today the salary of Rs 430000 would be worth Rs 306000 five years back!
(ii) The salary stagnation is peculiar to non unionised flight crew. The unionised flight crew have been getting increments to offset the effects of inflation. Moreover, during the economic down turn, the owners have resorted to downward revision of salary, without bothering to ever revise it upwards.
(iii) The salary stagnation is also peculiar to aviation sector. Banking, software, hospitality and many other sectors, have provided appropriate salary increases so as to attract competitive personnel.
(iv) The owners have resorted to increase the revenue by increasing the fares. Increase in the rates of aviation fuel, airport taxes and general inflation have all contributed to steady rise in the cost of air travel. However, the costs of “flight crew” have been kept constant or even progressively reduced through the years.
(b) Work Conditions
(i) FDTL: The work conditions of flight crew have progressively deteriorated. The FDTL was revised to bring in a coherent and scientific CAR. But the CAR is now kept under “abeyance”. One presumes that this was done in response to “crew shortage” the plea by the owners. The court was approached by the unionised pilots against this regressive step. But, with their economic might, the owners have been able to ensure that the prehistoric FDTL remains in place so that they don’t face any “rostering difficulties”. The unionised pilots are not significantly affected as they continue to insist on and are able to ensure that their work conditions are safe and tolerable (only 3 landings in a day, not more than 70 hours per month etc). The normal flight crew, on the other hand, are faced with the dilemma of dealing with a request to operate a BOM GOI BOM flight with a departure time of 1500 hrs after having flown two sectors of two hours each the previous night with a chocks on time of 0300 hrs!
(ii) Accommodation During Long Duty Hours: The current FDTL rules allow the flight crew to be “utilised” for 11 hours extendable to 15 hours. The airlines routinely take recourse to the available extension period. Very often the flight crew are required to wait in between the flights during a duty period. Often, no accommodation in terms of a lounge or any resting place is provided to the flight crew. The flight crew can be often seen seated in the passenger waiting area as the offices of the airlines do not even have any spare chairs! It is possible flight crew may have operated two flights with flight time of 4 hours and after a break of 3 hours are required to operate another flight of 3 hours block time. No rest in between the flight would certainly be a safety concern but because it is primarily a flight crew welfare concern, this aspect is frequently ignored by the management of non unionised pilots.
(iii) Hotel Accommodation: For the management, the major concern while selecting hotels for the flight crew is to “keep the costs low”. The selected hotels are therefore often very far from the airport causing an increase in effective duty cycle times. Often, the hotels are very noisy on account of discos or other social functions happening simultaneously in the hotel. The flight crew are required to bear it all and accept the hotel stay as legal rest. I remember that the pilots of British Airways have refused to depart from India on account of hotel Inter Continental being very noisy on a particular night. The airline had to reschedule the flight and arrange for another set of crew. However, for the non unionised flight crew, rest also is a luxury. Theoretically speaking, they can also report sick if the hotel accommodation was substandard, but practically, no one ever has done so in the last five years. Amazingly, the issue involved here is safety, as properly rested crew are essential for safe operations, but invariably, if a flight crew complains about the quality of accommodation, the management always perceives it to be a demand for unwarranted luxury!
(iv) Accommodation During Duty Travel: It is the endeavour of the management to continuously “show the pilots their place”. Thus, even while travelling on duty, pilots are not allowed to occupy the first class seats even if they are empty. The management may fly the plane in “one class configuration” and in that case allow even economy class passenger to occupy the first class seat. But pilots are bombarded with circulars which state that the pilots cannot occupy seats meant for higher class.
(v) Pilots Status: All organisations today are flooded with “senior managers” who don fancy titles like Manager, Senior Manager, GM, AGM, AGM, AVP, EVP etc. The flight crew, while being a formidable part of the industry, remain as Captain and Co Pilot. Their parity with respect to the plethora of these “General Managers” and “Presidents” is never defined. In the absence of a well defined protocol, even a ramp agent is able to instruct the Captain to vacate his transport and utilise it for transporting an “important” passenger. If the Captain was to protest, he is labelled as ill-tempered and undisciplined. The management is happy to leave it as vague as possible because it fits into the larger scheme of “keeping the pilots in their place”.
(vi) Contract: The owners are able to make the non unionised pilots sign and accept an unjust contract. A trained and endorsed on type co pilot is required to execute a training contract of Rs 18 lakhs / 3 years. The management justifies this by quoting the demand and supply rule. So, to get hired as a co pilot, one has to incur an additional expense of Rs 25 lakhs and spend another Rs 25 Lakhs to get a type endorsement and still sign a bond for Rs 18 lakhs / 3 years as there are too many co pilots in the market. However, the same management, pleads with DGCA, to keep the six month notice period CAR intact so that the demand and supply factor does not raise its head as far as trained personnel are concerned!
(vii) Contract Wordings and Implementation: The contracts are often worded to the disadvantage of the flight crew. The management ensures that while promising accommodation “it reserves the right to accommodate the flight crew in guest houses”. How a “Guest House” is to be defined and interpreted is left to the management! Even though the contract may define that the “work allotment will be as per DGCA approved FDTL rules”, the management of non unionised pilots resort to rostering pilots for “stand by duty”, which is nowhere defined in the current FDTL! The management is prompt to deduct a half of the monthly gross salary (Rs 2 Lakhs) of a Captain who was required to proceed on compassionate leave of 15 days without having any balance of PL (Leave without Pay). But, if another pilot has balance 15 days PL and is required to encash it at the time of retirement from the company he is paid Rs 35000/- (Basic Salary only)!! Non unionised pilots face the problem that income tax is deducted from their salaries but is not deposited with the IT department. Even if they were eligible for refunds, the IT department does not make the refund as the employer has not deposited any tax! The contract might specify 30 days of PL every year, with no riders, but the management ensures that these 30 days are availed in such a manner that the pilot flies 70 hours each month thereby reducing the overtime burden on the company. That the pilot is required to fly 70 hours each month may not be specified in the contract anywhere, but it is implemented nevertheless as the pilots are non unionised. The management issues transit check certificate to its pilots and is able to make them to do it for free, even without having such a requirement in the contract.
(viii) Unilateral Change in Contract: Very often, the employers change the terms and conditions of employment to the disadvantage of the flight crew. They however, implement the change claiming that the change is an improvement in the contract. One airline unilaterally shifted from a fixed salary of Rs 4.3 lakh (70 hours of flying) to a fixed salary of Rs 3.5 lakhs and flying allowance of Rs 1200/- per flying hour for first 70 hours. When the non unionised pilots protested, the management claimed that it was an improvement in contact as the total for 70 hours of flying now worked out to Rs 350000 + Rs Rs 84000 = Rs 434000/-. They ignored the argument that previously, even while on leave, the salary was Rs 4.3 lakhs and now it would be only Rs 3.5 lakhs! The overtime rates were also reduced and a block pay concept had been bought in. The management again claimed that “in the long run, the pilots would benefit”. So, under the garb of “improvement” in contract, for non unionised pilots, the management often brings in changes designed to harm the interests of the flight crew.
(ix) Quality of Transport: The contract states that the employer will provide a transport to the flight crew. The quality of transport is unspecified. So, one is compelled to travel in a rickety, smelly and dilapidated transport unbecoming of ones status and esteem needs. The drivers, being ill paid and overworked are often unhygienic, tired and irritable. The overall condition of the transport makes travelling to work an exasperating experience. Very often, the combination of all these factors makes it unsafe to avail the company provided transport. The option available to flight crew is to disembark and come to work “under own arrangements”. In fact, one airline, told its non unionised pilots that “To better their work conditions and to save them the trauma associated with company provided transport, they are allowing the flight crew to drive to work in their own transport”!!
(x) Leave: The contract specifies 30 days of PL. The management denies leave on account of “CAT III B” conditions, Crew Shortage, Operational reasons like ferry flights etc. If leave is to be granted to all at any given time 10% of the crew should be on leave. But management finds it cheaper to “pay out” PL @ basic only rather than hiring sufficient qualified
crew to fulfil the contract specified leave!!
(c) Other Issues
(i) Hiring of Expats: The companies are willing to hire expats and offer them a salary package which is not only one and half times that of an Indian captain, but also the entire package is tax-free. It has additional components such as free accommodation. They are also offered liberal work conditions like 6 week on and two weeks off work pattern. In Japan, apparently, no expat may be paid more than the junior most native captain. In India, the reverse applies. Unionised pilots can implore the management to restrict the hiring of expats and instead provide in-house junior pilots. In non unionised pilot groups, expats are hired frequently and very often, the hired expat with rather less experience is allowed to function as a trainer just because he has managed to obtain an approval in his country. A country with population less than Mumbai, is able to “export” examiners to India!! And I believe that an expat can be TRI immediately upon undergoing some course; an Indian is required to function as a check pilot for one full year before even dreaming of becoming a TRI.
(ii) Promotion Policy: For non unionised pilots the promotion is a carrot. The management invariably holds the veto power to deny promotion to any pilot without assigning any reasons. So, a “bad” pilot, (“bad” as viewed by the management) is “tackled” by employment of the “veto”. Companies also are willing to hire expats to tide over the shortage of trainers rather than provide in-house flight crew. And, although rules mandate strength of upto 30% trainers, companies are willing to keep it at as low as 10% for obvious reasons. An absence of a union prevents any logical promotion policy from being implemented.
(iii) DGCA Rules: An absence of a union prevents the pilots’ point of view being projected when the CARs and other circulars circulars are drafted.
(a) Six Month CAR The “six month notice CAR” today states “In case an air transport undertaking resorts to reduction in the salary / perks or otherwise alters the terms and conditions of the employment to the disadvantage of the employee pilot during the notice period, the pilot shall be free to make a request for his release before the expiry of the notice period and the air transport undertaking shall accept his request. “. The flight crew has to “request” an unjust employer!!! The CAR is silent on the aspect that if a company is on the verge of shutting down, then, are the pilots free to leave? The CAR in a broader sense treats “pilots” as an asset of the company rather than free citizens of the nation. Therefore, de-facto, even if a companies ownership is changed, the pilots are also “traded” as part of the assets and are “handed over” to the new owner. The pilots have little say in the change in ownership transaction. The pilots may not agree with the ethos and workculture of the new owners, but are still bound by the six month rule. This in unlike what happened in Air Italia case where the airlines amalgamation with another airline was long pending as the concerns of the unionized pilots were not addressed.
(b) FDTL Rules The companies are able to get “dispensations” from DGCA and extract even more work from non unionised pilots. So, one hears that DGCA has allowed more than 8 hours of flight time for a crew complement of two, as a special dispensation. Crew shortage is the reason for this special dispensation. A unionised body of pilots would be able to plead with the DGCA by voicing their opinions in a relevant manner.
So one can conclude that Indian Pilots are getting a raw deal because while the owners have a “Association” the pilots do not have a “union”. Following points then gain relevance:-
· Is forming a union an answer?
Yes seems to be the answer.
· Can a union address all the above mentioned issues?
May be all the issues can not be addressed fully. But, a beginning can be made. The Indian laws permit formation of a union. The trade Union Act and The Industrial Dipute act seem to be very “worker” friendly; and pilots are classified as workers.
· Can the union agenda be hijacked by a few individuals?
Yes, but the union is a democratic body and in case of pilots, who are alert individuals, the democratic process can remain vibrant.
· With the pilots constantly being busy, how will the agenda of the union carried forward?
With information technology, today a union can run the opinion survey on the net and even conduct elections and votes on issues via the net.
· So what is to be done?
Sadly, nothing. The trauma involved in formation of NAG, the union of Jet Pilots is rather large for another set of pilots to make an similar attempt. The management, owner, media, public and government all were anti union when the NAG attempt was being made. And this was a “transition” from a “welfare” body to that of a union! To make a union from scratch is almost impossible.
I write this blog to only give a vent to my feelings. Isn’t it sad that in a democratic and socialist republic like ours, a body of pilots, whose salaries are among the top 5% in the country, are unable to do any collective bargaining???
Posted by Tolip Naidni at 12:15 AM 0 comments