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Air India Express lays off crew members following mass sick leave that led to flight cancellations

Air India Express fired at least 30 crew members who were among hundreds of people who suddenly called in sick on Wednesday to protest the company’s policy, forcing the airline to cancel more than 150 flights in two days.

The Kochi, Kerala-based budget airline said 85 flights were canceled on Thursday, after at least 70 of them were grounded the day before when 300 crew members failed to arrive. not reported to work and remained incommunicado.

The company is run by a division of Air India, the former national airline that the Indian government sold to the Tata Group conglomerate in 2022.

It operates more than 2,500 flights per week at 31 domestic and 14 international airports.

Affected international services include flights to Sharjah, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Dammam and Muscat.

The airline said on Thursday that it was operating 292 flights with the help of Air India.

“We have mobilized all resources and Air India will support us by operating on 20 of our routes,” a spokesperson said.

“However, 85 of our flights are canceled and we urge customers who have booked a flight with us to check whether their flight is affected by the disruption before traveling to the airport.”

The airline sent termination letters to at least 30 employees Wednesday evening, citing “premeditated and concerted abstention from work without any justifiable reason.”

“A large number of flights had to be cancelled, thereby disrupting the entire schedule, causing enormous inconvenience to the airline’s valued passengers,” the letter said.

The airline also said the crew’s actions were “subversive to the public interest” and had “caused embarrassment, serious reputational damage and serious monetary losses to the company”.

Some of those still employed said The National they have been protesting for more than a year against disparities in pay, promotions and workload resulting from Tata’s plan to merge AIX Connect, a low-cost airline formerly known as AirAsia, with Air India Express.

They said the termination notices had “added fuel to the fire” and were against the law because no notice had been given.

“They asked us to come to a meeting yesterday, but as soon as the call was disconnected, the crew started receiving termination letters,” said a crew member who has worked for the airline for 19 years.

The crew said their salaries had been cut by 20 percent and benefits, such as housing allowance, had been removed.

“Rent allowance, travel allowance and uniform equipment allowance have been removed,” another crew member said. “We used to have an allowance for makeup kits because the company prescribed certain brands, that has also been removed.

“The regulator states that it is mandatory for the crew to rest for eight hours without interruption before the flight. But we’re put on another flight within 12 hours.”

The crew members said they wrote a letter last month listing their grievances to Natarajan Chandrasekaran, the chairman of Air India, but to no avail.

“If our health is compromised, who will compensate us?” they wrote. “We have been writing to management for a year. (The) crew is exhausted by the extensive work procedures.”

The Air India Express Employees’ Union is trying to get the sacked crew members reinstated, its president KK Vijayakumar said.

“It’s against the law,” he said. “It is our duty to protect their jobs. This is our concern and we have already intervened and spoken to management to restore their jobs.

Updated: May 9, 2024, 12:12 p.m.