Jet Airways staff unrest could spoil deal with Etihad

Written by fe Bureau | New Delhi | Updated: Jan 30 2013, 09:20am hrs
With Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways and Naresh Goyal-owned Jet Airways nearing a deal that will see the Gulf carrier buy into Jet, employees at the Mumbai-based carrier have begun a protest against harsh working conditions and a possible wage-hike freeze for the next 2-3 years.

The unrest is unlikely to create a hurdle in the deal, sources in the airline said adding that the employees may even get some of their demands met to ensure there is no escalation of the protest.

However, a person in the know of the development, said, The protest will definitely not affect any possible deal with Etihad.

As regards the grievances, the management will obviously hear them out and an amicable solution can be reached by accepting some, if not all, of their demands, the person added.

Some sections of Jet Airways technicians have started wearing black armbands to protest a management proposal to freeze wage hikes for the next two to three years.

It is not just the possible freeze on wage hike we are protesting, its a combination of issues, said one of the technicians at Jet Airways on condition of anonymity. We are working nearly 12 hours a day in harsh working conditions at one-tenth the salary that our Gulf counterparts get. On top of that, salaries are often coming late so if they stop wage hikes then it will be very unfair.

Asked whether the Etihad-deal had anything to do with the timing of the protest, the technician said, All we hear is media reports about the deal, but whether or not the deal happens, its only fair that our salaries are comparable to industry standards across the world.

Meanwhile, Jet Airways said in a statement that the airline has always adopted a conciliatory open door policy with all its staff.

In addition, a management team is in constant dialogue and discussions with the technicians, in explaining to them the commercial and other challenges given the present economic state of the global aviation industry at large and the airline in particular, a Jet Airways spokesperson said. This is expected to address the issues under discussion, but would also help resolve all further issues through this mechanism.

While the unrest is unlikely to escalate into a strike during the week, the carriers technicians are scheduled to have a meeting with the pilots in New Delhi on February 1, the day the airline announces its fiscal third quarter results. Another meeting is scheduled to be held on February 6.

This is not the first time that Jet Airways is facing employee unrest. In 2009, a six-day pilots strike led to the grounding of the airline and suspension of hundreds of flights. This time, the protest is being led by employees with Aircraft Maintenance Engineering degrees. They dont certify the planes but are crucial to flight operations as they receive and dispatch planes at terminals, work at the tarmac and hangars to get the planes ready for flight.

On Tuesday, Jet Airways share closed 1.94% lower on the BSE at R590.55.