AI Express cabin crew call off strike; airline to reinstate 25 terminated crew members

New Delhi, May 9 (PTI) Air India Express cabin crew on Thursday decided to withdraw their strike and the airline agreed to reinstate 25 staff who were terminated from service, according to sources.

A section of the cabin crew started reporting sick from Tuesday night to protest against the alleged mismanagement at the airline, forcing cancellation of more than 170 flights and impacting thousands of passengers at various airports.

The decisions to end the strike and withdraw the termination letters were agreed upon during a conciliation meeting between the representatives of cabin crew and the airline management at the Office of the Chief Labour Commissioner (Central) in the national capital on Thursday.

The meeting, which went on for nearly five hours, was between representatives of Air India Express Employees Union (AIXEU) and airline management. The union is affiliated to the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), an associate of the RSS.

After the meeting, Girish Chandra Arya, All India Secretary of the BMS, said the termination of 25 cabin crew of Air India Express has been withdrawn.

Both parties will discuss the issues and there will be a meeting again on May 28, he said.

With the strike being called off, Air India Express said it will help to swiftly restore the flight schedule.

After detailed discussions, persuasion and on appeal of the Conciliation Officer and the Chief Labour Commissioner, the union representatives agreed that “all the cabin crew members who have reported sick will report for duty with fitness certificate immediately, according to a document signed by the representatives of the union and the airline.

“On appeal of the Chief Labour Commissioner (Central), the management agreed to reinstate 25 cabin crew who have been terminated on May 7 and 8, 2024 for reporting sick as a concerted action immediately.

“The management will review the cases of these crew as per service regulations,” it said.

As per the document, the representatives of the airline assured that all the issues of cabin crew raised before the management and during conciliation proceedings will be looked into and resolved.

Earlier, the airline had terminated services of 25 striking cabin crew and also issued an ultimatum for others to join back for duty by 4 pm on Thursday.

“We are pleased with the progress we made at the conciliation meeting and welcome our cabin crew colleagues back at work… we sincerely apologise to those inconvenienced by these unintended disruptions. It is not in keeping with our usual service standards, and we will review it internally to ensure accountability,” the airline said in a statement.

“As we gradually bring our operations back to normalcy, we urge our guests booked to fly with us to check their flight status before heading to the airport,” it said.

Earlier in the day, the Tata Group airline said it has cancelled 85 flights or about 23 per cent of the total operational capacity due to cabin crew shortage and will be operating 283 flights.

To minimise the disruptions, Air India is operating flights on 20 routes of Air India Express, which has curtailed services till May 13.

Sources, earlier in the day, said around 250 cabin crew reported sick on Thursday.

The airline also held a pre-scheduled townhall with employees wherein around 70 cabin crew had participated, according to the sources.

On Wednesday, the civil aviation ministry sought a report from Air India Express on the cancellation of flights and also asked the airline to resolve the issues promptly.

Discontent has been brewing among a section of staff at Air India Express after the start of the process to merger AIX Connect, formerly AirAsia India, with itself. A section of the cabin crew has alleged mismanagement and lack of equality in the treatment of staff. A conciliation process is happening under the Industrial Disputes Act after a union representing a section of the Air India Express cabin crew had filed a complaint before the labour department last year.

Room sharing, lack of proper support, revised salary structure and alleged differential treatment of experienced crew members of Air India Express are among the issues being flagged by the striking cabin crew.

During the day, Air India Express passengers at various airports, including in Kerala and West Bengal, were left stranded as their flights were unexpectedly cancelled for the second day in a row.

In a message to the airline’s staff, Air India Express CEO Aloke Singh on Wednesday said since last evening, more than 100 cabin crew members have reported sick prior to their rostered flight duty, “at the last minute, severely disrupting our operations”.

“The disruptions have cascaded across the network, forcing us to curtail the schedules over the next few days. We had to do this to cope with the non-availability of crew and to recover schedules,” Singh had said.

He had also said the company leadership is available for any discussions if there are concerns that need to be addressed.

Air India Express cabin crew’s strike came a month after Tata Group full-service carrier Vistara witnessed pilot woes, forcing it to temporarily cut down capacity by 10 per cent, or 25-30 flights daily.

As part of consolidating its airline business, Tata Group is merging Air India Express and AIX Connect, as well as Vistara with Air India.

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