Recently, it was reported (http://www.btinvest.com.sg/dailyfree/sia-to-stop-offering-captains-re-employment-past-age-of-62/) that SIA has decided to discontinue re-hiring its pilots who are aged 62 years and older. In one fell swoop it has unilaterally declared this as a method of managing its manpower resources. This state of events is a crisis of their own making as it is a direct response to its poor forecast of its labour requirements which has in the past hired and trained too many. Hence, there are now too many crew on the payroll and SIA has rightly taken a decision to mange it. The contention is how it chooses to do so and how it disproportionately affects Singaporeans.
The company has, from its inception, hired foreigners to fly its aircrafts as there were just too few qualified Singaporeans with the skills. Over time, through training and recruitment, the company has increased employment of Singaporean pilots and has reduced its reliance on foreign recruitment resulting in a combination of Singaporeans and non-citizens in varying proportions. Presently, there is still a significant pool of foreign pilots on its payroll who come from neighbouring countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Philippines, Australia, etc.
The case for Citizens
The Singaporean who wants to work for SIA as a pilot can only join at age 26. Anybody else, can and very often do, join at 18. A difference of 8 yrs.
The Singaporean male, having completed his National Service (NS) commitment is also bounded by law to serve as a Reservist until age 40 or 50 according with his rank and appointment. And even if you take the minimum requirement of 10 years of Reservist duty at 21 days a year, this adds up to 30 weeks or 7.5 months. This is a quantifiable loss for the citizen who suffers a reduction in experience, which is then taken into account for promotion opportunities, as well as a reduction in his take-home pay. This price paid for by the Singaporean in guaranteeing security for ALL is casually taken for granted by everyone except the citizen soldier. SIA does not measure this benefit as it is simply the business environment in which it operates, which would also mean they do not reward it. So while the citizen employee gets field rations, deploy and engage in strenuous and often times risky manoeuvres, the non-citizen goes on with his normal employment without even understanding what the Singaporean has to go through. It is galling to the extreme for the soldier to have his sacrifice and commitment to his country turned against him in his other life as an employee.
Some may question the impact of the 8 years here and 7.5 months there of advancement that the Singaporean gives up for being a citizen. Well, the accounting does add up as it is not the lower pay the young Singaporean gives up while he is still junior in the company but actually the more substantial pay that he is stopped from earning at the apex of his career. These lost years of income would add tremendously in supporting their children’s education as well as their own retirement planning. This is especially so for Singaporeans in an increasingly expensive Singapore. His economic life is cut short. As you can see, this is a disadvantage that just keeps taking.
SIA cargo, SilkAir, Tiger and Scoot are companies under the SIA umbrella. In these companies, the pilots retire at age 65. Why is it that the crew in these subsidiary companies retire at 65 whereas in parent SIA it is 62? It is obviously not an issue of technical competency and capability. And again, why does SIA hire foreigners in these subsidiary companies and essentially fire Singaporeans in SIA when there is a pool of qualified crew trained to the standards mandated by the parent company with decades of experience? Is this merely a bad decision or something more sinister altogether?
In deciding to end its re-hiring policy and applying without regard to the disparity between citizen and non-citizen, SIA chooses to rub salt into already raw wounds. If the company hired fewer foreign crew there would be ample employment for the Singaporean beyond age 62. Citizens are made to join late and forced to leave early. There is a case to speak up for the economic discrimination against the citizen here.
In the spirit of a meritocratic evaluation, SIA institutes programmes that claim to deal with disparities affecting promotion and pay for citizens. In doing so, it rightly acknowledges that there is a difference between Singaporeans and non-citizens. However, these programmes do not effectively and fairly deal with the significant disadvantage to Singaporeans. Where the Singaporean suffers an 8 year delay to join SIA the promotion for foreigners is held back by only one year to be considered equally disadvantaged. Where is the fair play for the Citizen?
The citizen employee essentially earns and spends SGD in the country. The foreigner spends only a portion in Singapore, essentially as living expenses during their time in the country but would send more of it to wherever he calls home or his final place of retirement which is unlikely to be Singapore. The costs in Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, India, Australia are not, in any true comparison, as high as the cost of living and retiring in Singapore. (Someone here will obviously insist that living in Oz is expensive, hence I must just say “how much did they pay for that house and car in Oz” .. the difference speaks for itself.) Hence, in relative terms, the citizen gets a lot less. A dollar buys a lot less in Singapore than it does in the neighbouring countries. Here, I am reminded by those infamous comments ( http://www.theonlinecitizen.com/2009/02/nursing-homes-in-johor-bahru-revisited ) about asking Singaporeans to retire in JB. Should citizens who contribute to building this country, defend it, suffer its high costs, nurture the next generation then be offered disadvantaged employment terms? For most citizens, this country is everything. For many others, this is, at best, a stopover.
A valid point that some may argue is that SIA is a private listed company and its mandate as such is profit seeking for its shareholders without regard for such emotive elements like Citizenship. Let us remind ourselves that its inception was from a handout from the country and by this reference, its citizens.
This is Singapore Airlines.
It is the flagship carrier of Singapore.
As they say, the clue is in its name. Is there so little room in this company, which still turns a nice profit for its shareholders, to account for the extra exertions by its citizen employees and to prioritise their employment above non-citizens. Is it unreasonable to think there might be more room for Singaporeans in Singapore Airlines?
In recent times, hiring practices by MNCs as well as SMCs have come under protests for the bias taken against Singaporeans. Prompting MOM to take action against errant companies and even having the Manpower Minister TCJ (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2013-09-23/singapore-introduces-framework-for-hiring-its-citizens-fairly ) to speak on this. In the recent case of Prime Gold International (http://business.asiaone.com/news/marine-companys-work-pass-privileges-curbed-discriminating-sporean-workers) and the subsequent 2 year ban on recruitment imposed by the MOM, the citizens having been found to be unfairly terminated by the employer did not get their jobs back. Where is the fair play? Now, the PM has declared a “Singaporean First” (https://sg.news.yahoo.com/blogs/singaporescene/gov-t-puts-poreans-first-pm-lee-175645736.html ) push and stressed getting a right balance between foreigners and Singaporeans. How will all this turn out? Looking at SIA, it looks like nothing has changed. A few years ago, an open letter of appeal was written to the PM’s office (http://www.transitioning.org/2014/11/19/letter-of-appeal-to-prime-ministers-office-for-the-job-security-of-sia-pilots ) lamenting the very sorry state of affairs regarding young citizen pilots. What has become of them?
The vast majority of Singaporeans are fair-minded, pragmatic, tolerant, gracious, charitable and even generous. We do not ask for an unfair advantage. We just ask to be treated fairly and compassionately in our own country that we helped create. Should we not speak out against policies and practices that affect us all? If such victimisation is allowed to prosper, either openly or in the shadows, everyone will, in time, be diminished by it. It might be shipping clerks months ago and pilots today. When, where or who will it such stop at?