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     FrontPage Edition: Tue 2 December 2003

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Improving Labour Relations in Singapore Airlines (SIA)

The Cabinet has discussed the state of industrial relations in Singapore and in particular the impact of recent developments in the Air Line Pilots Association - Singapore (Alpa-S) union on the aviation industry and other unions.

Aviation is a key industry creating jobs and economic growth. Considerable investments have been made to build up our air hub status and the air travel sector: $3.9 billion on Changi Airport, and an additional $2.6 billion planned for current projects.

Changi Airport provides jobs for 35,000 permanent workers, and 55,000 contract or temporary workers. SIA employs 12,000 staff; of which about 1,700 are pilots (1,000 local, 400 PR and 300 foreign) and 6,400 are cabin crew.

Our economy, especially the travel sector, had been under severe stress from terrorism and SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). These threats still exist. Further, low cost airlines, newer airplanes with longer flight capabilities and other airports in neighbouring countries will challenge SIA and Changi Airport’s position as a premier air-hub.

We cannot allow confrontational industrial relations to add to the problems of SIA, Changi Airport and our travel industry. It will put jobs and Singapore’s economy at risk.

The relationship between SIA management and their pilots’ union has been troubled. They have had repeated episodes of protracted negotiations, many resulting in deadlock.

The latest settlement could only be reached after mediation by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and the Industrial Arbitration Court. Even after agreeing to this settlement, 55% of members subsequently voted out the negotiating team. We cannot afford a continuation of these dysfunctional relations marked by confrontations and stand-offs.

To prevent another such cycle of acrimony, MOM will amend the Trade Unions Act to ensure that the rules of registered trade unions enable executive committees to negotiate and commit to collective agreements without the need for formal ratification by the general membership or the branches.

This practice of obtaining ratification from the general membership is unique to Alpa-S's constitution. MOM will also rescind approval for the two non-citizens currently on the Executive Committee of Alpa-S.

These changes of themselves will not produce good industrial relations. For this to happen, SIA management and pilots must put the past behind them and start anew. They must break away from their old attitudes and move towards consensus and cooperation.

SIA must improve its human resource management. Management must forge a common understanding with its employees on the way ahead and explain its plans to grow the company. SIA will have to pay competitive wages to retain the services of their good staff and gain the loyalty of its pilots and other staff.

Employees will be incentivised to be active partners of change if they can share in the rewards when the company performs well. Such changes will raise morale and increase cooperation. MOM will help SIA and its unions including Alpa-S to achieve flexible and responsive wage systems that adequately reward and motivate good performers.

Our harmonious industrial climate based on tripartite partnership is a key pillar for our economic and social progress. It has enabled us to make necessary changes, like painful wage and CPF cuts, to move our economy forward. The Government will not allow any group to undermine this vital factor in securing good jobs and economic growth for our people.

More.....

Source: Statement from the Prime Minister's Office 30 Nov 2003

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Public Holidays CHRISTMAS DAY is the next public holiday. It falls on 25 December 2003.