Pay Cut Better Than Shutting Airline, Say Indigo, Spicejet Staff

Financial stress from coronavirus has forced airlines to cut salaries and send employees on leave without pay.

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Financial stress from coronavirus has forced airlines to cut salaries and send employees on leave without pay.
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“How do you think we must be feeling like? it affects us all, in every airline,” an irate GoAir crew member remarks, as an unprecedented outbreak of COVID-19 brings the Indian aviation industry to a grinding halt.

The crew member, in his early twenties, feels that although the Indian government’s decision to all domestic and international flights till 31 March 2020 will impact workers in the aviation industry, they cannot risk their health to keep operations going.

Pay Cut Better Than Shutting Airline, Say Indigo, Spicejet Staff

But suspension of commercial flights is not where the problem began. In early March, as more cases of coronavirus emerged in India, international flights were the first to take a hit. Several Indian carriers cancelled international flights and by third week of March, Indigo, India’s largest airline by market share, had not only cancelled most of its international flights, but also 25 of them in the domestic market.

While India suspended all commercial domestic flight operations from midnight of 24, PM Modi in his address to the nation on Tuesday announced a 21-day nation-wide lock down period, to arrest the spread of coronavirus. It is not yet clear if the flight ban, officially till 31 March, will get a similar extension.

Pay Cut Better Than Losing Job: Indigo Cabin Crew

The fall in air passenger demand pushed tickets prices down, forcing IndiGo to announce a 10-25% pay cut for employees.

Speaking on the condition of absolute anonymity, an Indigo cabin crew with over five years of experience says that she will be taking a 10 percent cut in pay from April, while pilots and captains will take home 15 percent less than their current salary.

But she doesn’t blame the airline at all. In fact, she feels that given the present environment, such cuts are important if airlines are to survive the storm of coronavirus.

Pay Cut Better Than Shutting Airline, Say Indigo, Spicejet Staff

But if there’s anybody responsible for this mess, she says it’s the government, which failed to act in time and started screening air passengers late.

Glamorous as it may seem in popular culture, the life of a flight crew is not an easy one, as they often face the brunt of passengers for decisions that are beyond their control. “Even today, there are passengers in flight who keep coughing and don’t even wear masks. Other passengers argue with us, asking us to de-board them and send them to the hospital,” the IndiGo crew recounts.

Leave Without Pay at GoAir

While Indigo has slashed salaries by 10-25 percent, GoAir, owned by the Wadia group, has asked employees to go on a rotational leave without pay. A Chennai-based employee of the airline, who’s been working as security staff, says it will definitely be a economic setback if he, too, is sent on LWP.

Not so long ago, Jet Airways, one of the country’s leading full-service airlines, turned turtle as lenders refused to bail out the cash-trapped airline in April 2019. While several aircraft owned by Jet were subsequently taken over by Spicejet and Vistara, many of the erstwhile carrier's long-range aircraft can still be seen parked in isolation across Indian airports.

Perhaps it is these aircraft and the story of lost livelihoods behind their grounding that make the Chennai-based GoAir employee find meaning in leave without pay.

Pay Cut Better Than Shutting Airline, Say Indigo, Spicejet Staff

Everything is in the government’s hand, he says.

Another ground staff working with Spicejet in Bengaluru says although they haven’t faced any pay cut or been asked to go on leave without pay, there is a constant question of job security in their minds.

“We are of course worried about our jobs. We don’t know what is going to happen for the next month or something. Everyone is confused, no one has answers,” he says, while preparing to leave for his home state of Kerala.

Just like the Chennai employee of GoAir, the Spicejet Ground staffer emphasises that it is an industry problem.

At Air India, Pilots Unhappy

At Air India, pilots are unhappy about about the State airline suspending 10 percent of allowances. A senior pilot based out of Chennai says that the move is likely to set him back around Rs 70,000 per month. A huge chunk of salaries for pilots are derived from allowances.

He says that at Air India, the allowance for all other categories of employees is very minuscule. For instance, an executive director, he says, earns a gross salary of Rs 1.8-2 lakh and their basic pay is about 55-57 thousand. Half of the basic will be the allowance, which is around 25-27 thousand. Ten percent of that is only 2,700.

Pay Cut Better Than Shutting Airline, Say Indigo, Spicejet Staff
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