Monday, January 16, 2012

Unpaid Kingfisher pilots may call in sick

Pilots have threatened to call in sick this week to protest against non-payment of salaries and deteriorating working conditions

New Delhi: Several pilots of Kingfisher Airlines Ltd have threatened to call in sick this week to protest against non-payment of salaries and deteriorating working conditions.

Some Kingfisher pilots may call in sick starting Tuesday, following a similar protest by state-run Air India​ Ltd’s pilots that disrupted about 40 flights on Saturday, according to three airline executives, who declined to be named. “There is no patience left among employees,” said one of the executives, referring to the delay in salary payments.

A second executive at the airline said pilots are communicating through a dedicated Facebook page created by Kingfisher employees, as the airline does not have a labour union or a welfare society.

“I doubt calling in sick will solve any problem. Plus, unlike other airlines, there is fragmentation here,” the executive said. “There are just two type of people left in Kingfisher—those who have resigned (and are serving notice periods) and those who are waiting to leave.”

Kingfisher’s pilots have been hired by rivals such as IndiGo and GoAir that are expanding their fleets. Many pilots at Kingfisher are serving notice periods or are waiting to be paid salaries for the past two months, the executive said.

Hitesh Patel, vice-president at the Vijay Mallya-controlled airline, said in a 5 January email to employees that salaries will be disbursed in the last week of the month, but there has been no update since. “As you may know, about 4,100 employees got the November salary last Saturday, balance November salary will be paid on 15 January and December salary by 31 January,” Patel said in the email.

His email came a month after the airline’s chief executive Sanjay Aggarwal wrote to employees giving similar assurances.

A spokesman for Kingfisher said the company has started paying overdue salaries on Monday.

The airline’s financial troubles led to the salaries being delayed and the withdrawal of facilities to employees including cab services to airports.

“You need to hire a cab even for a 3am duty,” said the second executive. Transport services are provided to cabin crew and pilots by all airlines. At Kingfisher, the service was snapped last year as payments hadn’t been made to vendors, the executive said.

“It is common practice the world over for crew to make their own transport arrangements to or from work,” said the spokesman. “In India, companies do provide transport and so does Kingfisher in most cases. Where transport is not provided, costs are reimbursed.”

Air India was able to get the pilots back to work because of the backing of the government, said an analyst. “Kingfisher pilots do not have that option, and if salaries are not paid for two months, it does put a lot of stress on their minds,” said Mohan Ranganathan, a Chennai-based aviation expert and a member of the Civil Aviation Safety Advisory Council. “This is a cause for worry as the airline regulator audit has identified several shortcomings in maintenance. Questionable maintenance and stressed pilots is a worrisome combination.”


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