Indian carriers which were looking forward to sunny days with the receding of Covid-19 pandemic have hit serious turbulence, as they are now faced with an issue they left unaddressed in the past two years — employees’ disaffection over low pay.
A significant section of aircraft maintenance technicians of IndiGo and Go First have gone on sick leave in the last one week to protest against their low salaries. However, despite the staff crunch, both carriers have managed to keep their flight operations unaffected, barring a few embarrassing incidents.
The truancy among the employees of these airlines is also being cited as occasioned by the hiring sprees launched by carriers such as Akasa Air, a revamped Jet Airways, and Tata-owned Air India.
On July 2, around 55 per cent of IndiGo's domestic flights were delayed as a significant number of its cabin crew went on leave, with sources saying they reportedly went for an Air India recruitment drive.
On July 13, some SpiceJet pilots circulated a message that the airline's captains and first officers will be going on sick leave on Thursday to protest against their low salaries. However, on the said day, all pilots reported on duty, according to the airline.
Covid and inflation impact
Indian carriers, which saw their revenues sapped dry during the global virus attack, had cut down salaries of their employees during the peak of the pandemic to save cash. Most of them are yet to bring these salaries back to pre-pandemic levels.
A senior executive of a low-cost carrier said that employees are not lost on the fact that while their workload at present is as huge as it was before the pandemic, they are getting lower salaries, even as a rising inflation nibbles away at this circumscribed income.
This has created a lot of discontent among the employees, especially those who are at the bottom of the hierarchy, like technicians, he added. Two technicians — who took part in this 'sick leave protest' — said that the new joinees in the low-cost carriers are paid anywhere between ₹8,000-₹15,000 per month, which is extremely less.
A deeper malaise
While it seems that the issues of low pay have cropped up only now, the revolt reveals a deeper malaise within the aviation industry.
In September and November last year, there were two instances where SpiceJet employees — primarily from its security department or aircraft maintenance department — went on strike in front of the Delhi airport protesting against reduced salaries and their irregular disbursement.
In a report issued in December 2020, aviation consultancy firm CAPA had said that Human Resources (HR) planning is an afterthought in Indian aviation sector's growth equation, and this has been visible since 2003-04.
"Hundreds of aircraft were ordered and induced without factoring in the need for skilled resources. A shortage of pilots, engineers and cabin crew has resulted in aircraft assets sitting on the ground or being under-utilised," the report said.
Rakesh Jhunjhunwala-backed new airline Akasa Air, which has ordered 72 Max planes from Boeing, is planning to start commercial flight operations from this very month. Revamped Jet Airways is currently in talks with aircraft manufacturers Boeing and Airbus to place an order and it plans to restart commercial flight operations by September.
After acquiring Air India last year, the Tata Group is also currently in talks with Boeing and Airbus to place a sizeable order. "Under-investment in building talent reflects a failure to recognise that people are ultimately the keys to creating a customer-focused and profitability-driven culture," the CAPA report stated.
The failure to implement an effective people strategy has a massive financial and strategic impact on aviation businesses, the report said. "But, as these impacts are not measured they are neither recognised nor managed."
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