The Air India ground staff — affiliated to a Shiv Sena labour union — went on a flash strike from Wednesday night, disrupting flights at Mumbai airport in the process. However, the strike was called off on Thursday night.
Air India operates around 470 daily flights and around 50 of those were delayed by close to two hours across the network, by Thursday afternoon.
Ground handling functions like check-in, and loading/unloading of bags, are handled by the airline’s subsidiary Air India Air Transport Services (AIATSL). Its staff comprises both Air India employees on deputation or transfer, and employees on contract. The contract staff went on strike from 11:00 pm on Wednesday, demanding reinstatement of three employees who were sacked from work as well as recognition of their labour union.
While the termination of staff was not revoked, the management agreed to other demands of the union, related to transport, among others.
The strike led to long queues at check in counters and delays from Mumbai airport. While the average flight delay was of two hours, a Bangkok flight took off six hours late. “There was no strike notice. The union members prevented staff from joining duty last night. Their action is illegal. The four employees were sacked for indiscipline or absenteeism,” said a senior executive.
While labour issues had been simmering for a year in AIATSL, Thursday’s confrontation is being viewed as a show of strength by the union. Within AIATSL, there are two recognised unions that represent permanent employees.
“The strike is to protest the exploitation and harassment of employees. The company has not followed due process while sacking the three employees. Proper inquiry was not conducted and this is against the spirit of natural justice,” said Santosh Chalke, general secretary of Bharatiya Kamagar Sena.
“Due to a sudden industrial situation at Mumbai by AIATSL employees, some flights have got delayed. We are assessing the situation and all efforts are being made to minimise delays or disruption,” an Air India spokesperson said.