As a section of Air India Express employees are calling in sick, a look at 'sickouts' as a means of protest clear news

Within a few weeks, two Indian airlines – Vistara and Air India Express – Affected by protests from a section of employees critical to operations. in early April, Vistara shaken by disruptions When many of its pilots called in sick en masse. Last week, something similar happened at Air India Express, where a large number of senior cabin crew took sick leave, resulting in network-wide disruption for the airline.

Over the past few years, collectively calling in sick, also known as a “sickout”, has emerged as a means of industrial action by employees – primarily in key operational roles – to disrupt operations and To strike at work without calling a formal strike.

While aviation is one industry that has been clearly prone to this collective bargaining tool over the years, other sectors have also been affected. Here's a look at this practice and why it's being used again and again.

What is a sickout and how is it different from a strike?

Sickouts essentially involve organizing workers with a large number of complaints and having them take coordinated leaves, usually at the eleventh hour, under the pretext of being unwell, leaving little time for management to respond effectively and take mitigating measures. Get time.

Generally, illnesses come as a surprise to management as there is no strike notice or formal procedure before such an act.

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In essence, both traditional strike and sickout are similar, as they involve employees refusing to work in order to force the management to address their grievances and consider their demands. However, whereas strikes are usually formal and legal affairs involving notices, procedures, recognized employee associations and unions, and generally a well-determined process, strikes are informal, quick, and free from such constraints. Are.

Globally, employee unions have fallen out of vogue over the years with governments, regulators, the public at large and even some sections of workers, due to a number of reasons.

Many argue that in large parts of the world laws and regulations have been introduced to weaken labor unions and their ability to bargain collectively. Private sector employees are unable to organize themselves into formal unions due to a lack of supportive legislation and government policies.

Where workers' unions exist, certain categories of workers may not be allowed to join unions or participate in strikes, and management and the government may refuse to recognize or derecognize a union. Even competing unions with different orientations may be at loggerheads among themselves.

Then there are other issues like excessive politicization of unions, harassment of union leaders, distrust between workers, unions and management and an easily replaceable workforce.

As a result of all this, there has been a marked decline in the number of formal strikes and labor movements in various sectors in many parts of the world. But this does not mean that workers never feel the need to organize themselves into interest groups, put forward their demands, and use the tools of collective bargaining to force management to pay attention.

What's behind the increasing trend of sickouts?

Sickouts aren't exactly new – workers have used them for decades. Although formal strikes are now far between and far between, they are beginning to occur much more frequently than in previous years.

Sickouts, like strikes, are usually most effective when the protesting workers are in key operational roles, as their absence from work can paralyze company operations.

Therefore, it is not surprising that in the aviation sector, sickouts are mostly used as equipment by pilots, cabin crew and engineering staff, because without them, airlines cannot operate. Certainly, an airline would suffer losses if its non-operational employees called in sick en masse, but certainly not as much and not as quickly as in the case of pilots or cabin crew refusing to fly. It happens.

Furthermore, if complaints are limited to specific departments or classes of employees, and not the majority of the workforce, a sickout is seen as an effective tool of protest. In such scenarios, it may be difficult for a disgruntled group of employees to muster support from a majority of their colleagues in other departments and convince them to strike at work.

In fact, other sections of colleagues may also be against the movement. For example, a section of Vistara pilots agitating for a better pay structure may not garner much sympathy from their colleagues in other roles, who are earning much less money than the pilots.

Of course, if the grievances are widespread then the incidence and scale of agitation can be very large with many departments involved in the movement. But often, strikeouts are considered most effective as a protest tool for specific worker categories, especially those on whom the company is heavily dependent for operations.

It is also very difficult for the management to take punitive action against sick people, mainly because it is a protest, but it is under the guise of illness. Unlike a formal strike in which workers openly refuse to work and they and their leaders can be easily identified, proving that all workers calling in sick was done with malicious intent and without justifiable reason. This done, can be quite complicated from a legal perspective.

Furthermore, identifying the leaders of the protest or the forces behind the movement can be challenging because strikes are often organized informally, not by any structured and recognized association.

Are diseases limited to aviation only?

In India, apart from the two malfunctions seen in Vistara and Air India Express, there have been several other problems in the aviation sector in the last few years. For example, a large number of aircraft technicians and cabin crew at IndiGo go on mass sick leave in 2022.

In 2013, engineers at the now-defunct Kingfisher Airlines went on mass sick leave. In 2012, pilots of Air India and Kingfisher called for a collective strike with various demands. In 2009, more than 300 Jet Airways pilots went on mass sick leave as part of a movement against the airline's management.

Although they make the most headlines when they occur in the aviation industry, diseases are not limited to this sector. These have been used as a tool of collective bargaining by workers in various sectors in different countries. In many such instances, workers resorted to illness because they were not legally allowed to strike at work, which would be the case for many workers in sectors classified as essential services.

For example, in April 2020, several Amazon employees in the United States in key departments such as warehousing and technology fell ill due to the company's apparently inadequate response to the COVID-19 pandemic and alleged punitive actions against workers who spoke out. Fell. Similar actions were seen by workers at other retail majors like Target and Whole Foods around the same time.

Over the past few years, there have been some cases of teachers, health workers and other essential service workers falling ill in various countries. For example, a large number of public school teachers in Detroit declared a strike out in protest against poor working conditions, leading to the closure of almost all schools in the American city.

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