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Air India Express crisis: 30 staffers sacked over sick leave, ultimatum issued to others as 86 flights were canceled, operations halted until 13 May

Regional Labour Commissioner Ashok Perumalla criticized Air India Express for its poor management in an email message dated 3rd May and conveyed that the union's concerns were legitimate.

The 30 cabin crew members of Tata Group-owned Air India Express were “terminated from their jobs with immediate effect” for taking unannounced sick leave on May 7. The mass sick leaves resulted in the cancellation of over 100 flights since May 7th night, affecting about 15,000 customers.

The remaining cabin crew members who reported sick were given an ultimatum by Air India Express to go back to work by 4 pm on 9th May or else they would be fired. Senior Air India Express staff members’ mass leaves have compelled the airline to suspend flights until 13th May.

A few hours prior to their flights, up to 327 senior crew members reported feeling “sick” and turned off their phones. The situation has forced the cancellation of at least 74 (85 per some reports) flights that were planned for 9th May. Meanwhile, the airline declared that it would be running 283 flights on the same day operating on 20 of the routes that are part of Air India Express.

A notification by Air India Express informed, “We will be operating 283 flights today. We have mobilised all resources and Air India will support us by operating on 20 of our routes. However, 74 of our flights stand cancelled and we urge our guests booked to fly with us to check if their flight is affected by the disruption before heading to the airport. If their flight is cancelled, or delayed beyond 3 hours, they may opt for a full refund or reschedule to a later date without any fees on Tia on WhatsApp (+91 6360012345) or on”

Air India Express sacked some crew members

On the evening of 8th May, thirty crew members got notifications of termination. The sources also stated that a meeting between the airline management and the striking crew members is scheduled for 9th May at 2:00 pm in Delhi, at the request of Regional Labour Commissioner Ashok Perumalla. The airline stated that the crew members’ action “pointed to a pre-mediated and concerted abstention from work without any justifiable reason”.

In the email notice of termination it sent to the affected employees, it added that the widespread sick leave “violated the Air India Express Limited Employees’ Service Rules as are applicable” in addition to breaching the relevant laws.

According to the statement, the crew members were scheduled to fly on 7th May informed the Scheduling team at the last moment that they were unwell and accordingly reported sick. “It is noted that at around the same time, an overwhelming number of other cabin crew members have also reported sick and not reported for their duties. This clearly points to a pre-mediated and concerted abstentation from work without any justifiable reason,” the statement adds.

The airline asserted that as a result, “a large number of flights had to be cancelled, thereby disrupting the entire schedule, which caused tremendous inconvenience to our esteemed passengers.” The press release further read, “Your act amounts to a concerted action with a common understanding, to not operate the flight and to disrupt services of the company.” “You will no longer be considered an employee; you will no longer have access to official emails, servers, and other communication; and you and your dependants shall not be eligible for any employee-related benefits provided by the company,” the airline mentioned when it laid off the staff members.

The reason behind the dispute

Air India Express is a fully-owned subsidiary of Air India, a division of the business conglomerate Tata Group, which is experiencing network-wide disruptions as a result of certain cabin crew workers reporting sick, reportedly in protest of the carrier’s revised human resources (HR) rules. The airline was being mishandled and there was a “lack of equality in treatment,” according to a letter that the 300-strong Air India Express Employees union submitted to the Tata group and Air India Chairman N Chandrasekaran previously.

The Air India Express Employees organization (AIXEU) is a legally recognized organization that represents approximately 300 senior members of the cabin crew. The union had further claimed that employee morale had been impacted by the airlines’ mismanagement of its problems. A number of media outlets reported that employees are being offered lower-level positions even after they pass the interviews. Another significant factor contributing to the complaint is the alteration of important components of their compensation package.

An employee reported that the cabin crew was not receiving the necessary help. She added that in addition to having to share rooms during layovers, there is a lot of stress and that the allocated hotel rooms occasionally lack sufficient amenities. Among the concerns being raised by a portion of the older cabin staff are room sharing, inadequate assistance, the new pay scale and what they perceive to be unfair treatment of the more seasoned staff members.

Another member of the cabin crew expressed that people who have been with Air India Express for a long time are receiving different treatment than those from AIX Connect and that the management of the airline was unwilling to investigate their complaints. Additionally, AIXEU claimed that the employees’ morale has been impacted by the mishandling of the affairs.

The staff members are also protesting the merger of AI Express with AIX Connect (formerly AirAsia India) by the management of the Tata Group as the company is proceeding with its intention to combine its two airlines in addition to hiring more cabin crew to assist its growth. The airline normally operates more than 350 flights every day, but if circumstances require, it can potentially operate up to 400 daily flights.

Regional Labour Commissioner slammed Air India Express

Regional Labour Commissioner Ashok Perumalla criticized Air India Express for its poor management in an email message dated 3rd May and conveyed that the union’s concerns were legitimate. He declared that no responsible decision-makers had been sent by the airline management to any of the conciliation proceedings. It was clear that there had been mismanagement and flagrant labour code violations. “The HR (human resources) department tried to mislead the conciliation officer with the wrong information and an idiotic representation of legal provisions,” he observed, adding that a high-ranking committee should be appointed to handle the employee complaints.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), the aviation regulator, would be consulted by the regional labour commissioner in the ongoing conciliation process concerning the conflict between Air India Express management and some cabin crew members. Numerous airports, including Bengaluru, Calicut, Delhi and Kochi, experienced flight difficulties. Both domestic and international services including those for multiple Gulf nations have been negatively impacted. 14 of the carrier’s flights were cancelled at Delhi airport alone on 7th May between 4 am to 4 pm.

Low-cost carrier Air India Express is the second Tata Group airline to witness employee protests in recent months. Due to staff shortages, Vistara, its joint venture with Singapore Airlines, also had to cancel flights last month. Later, after pilots reported absenteeism in large numbers, Vistara was forced to reduce its operations. Moreover, a thorough report about flight delays and cancellations has also been demanded by the Union Ministry of Civil Aviation from the airline.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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OpIndia Staff
OpIndia Staff
Staff reporter at OpIndia

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