Air India is facing its first staff protest after becoming a private carrier. On Tuesday, several employees from the engineering department refused to pick up their tools to mark a silent disagreement against the management. The protest came after failed negotiations between the management and technicians regarding several issues, including salary and career progression.

Tools down protest

For Air India technical staff at Chennai International Airport, March 15th was quite different from their usual workday. According to a report by DT Next, around 23 AI technicians decided to participate in a tools-down protest against certain management policies and decisions. However, there were no reports of flights being affected at the airport.

But this wasn’t an isolated agitation at the airport in the South Indian city. Nationwide, around 1,700 staff members of the Air India Engineering Services Ltd (AIESL), the company which handles AI’s maintenance and repair jobs, went on strike.

AISEL is entirely government-owned and was not part of Air India’s disinvestment deal with the Tata Group. Around 60 percent of AISEL’s workforce is made up of maintenance technicians, so a strike of such kind impacts operations.

Air India A320
Several AI technicians staged a tools-down protest on Tuesday demanding better pay and career progression. Photo: Getty Images

Nationwide stir

The protest began at 9 am on Tuesday, and it has been reported that several flights out of New Delhi were delayed as a result. However, according to the Press Trust of India, Air India denied any agitation-related delays.

Some of the daily tasks that AI’s technicians perform, aside from regular maintenance, include aircraft fueling, marshaling, and getting the plane ready for departure. This is Air India’s first staff protest as a private carrier. The protesting employees want several issues to be addressed, including a wage increase, dearness allowance, medical facilities, and career advancement.

The Times of India quotes a staff member as saying,

“We want salary based on equal work, equal pay. Our salaries should be on par with that of service engineers of Air India because our job profile, qualifications, etc. are the same. But our salary is Rs 25,000. But since January, we have been receiving a salary of Rs 21,444. Among the deductions made were those for medical facility and Rs 1,100 that AIESL has been deducting since May 2020 as part of economic measures.”

There were reports of some AI flights out of New Delhi being delayed due to the protest. Photo: Paul Hamilton via Wikimedia Commons

Failed negotiations

The technicians made their demands clear to the management in January and threatened a tools-down protest on January 17th. But the strike was postponed following a meeting of the employees with the management under the assistant labor commissioner.

When the employees threatened action again on February 7th, the management decided to hold another meeting, postponing the protest once again. As the issues remained unresolved, and no common grounds were found even after repeated rounds of discussions, the employees decided to finally go on a tools-down protest on Tuesday. According to TOI, AIESL also terminated the contracts of a few protesting technicians by the end of the day on March 15th.

Hopefully, the concerned parties can bring the issues back to the negotiating table and find a solution soon.

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