SIA asks cabin crew to take voluntary no-pay leave due to temporary manpower surplus

SINGAPORE - Singapore Airlines (SIA) is asking its cabin crew to take no-pay leave to address a temporary manpower surplus.

In a recent notice to crew, the airline said the offer to take leave between September and Nov 17 is to allow the carrier to "better manage crew resources and operational requirements".

SIA - which faces fierce competition from airlines, especially in the long-haul premium sector - has said repeatedly that it needs to be flexible and nimble to address operational challenges.

On the recent move, a spokesman said: "Having temporary surpluses or deficits of cabin crew is not unusual due to the nature of our business... This scheme is completely voluntary."

SIA has about 8,200 cabin crew. The last time they were asked to take no-pay leave was after the end-2008 global financial crisis.

The no-pay leave offer follows an earlier circular, issued to crew about a month ago, to inform them that training would be stepped up over the next three months. The extra training was introduced to ensure crew had work because an expected expansion in flights did not happen, SIA said then.

Crew were also told that those on stand-by duty may not be called up.

Since the end-2008 crisis which led to a prolonged business downturn and changes in corporate and leisure travel patterns, SIA has introduced a slew of initiatives to manage staff numbers.

The airline has also had to restructure the business, for example by expanding into the low-cost segment.

This has affected many staff, including pilots.

In November, The Straits Times reported that SIA had shed about 12 per cent of its pilots in the last five years, amid a prolonged business slowdown. The pool had shrunk from 2,331 pilots in March 2011 to 2,056 at the end of March last year.

Some pilots left voluntarily, while others were asked to go.

Cabin crew The Straits Times spoke to had mixed feelings about the recent development, with some welcoming the opportunity to take a break, while others expressed concerns that less flying would amount to less allowances.

Said one: "I've heard rumours about a surplus of crew and, as a result, new crew/junior crew are being put on standby without getting called up. This affects our allowance and thus we earn less... Definitely, crew are quite concerned."

Despite the challenges, SIA's chief executive Goh Choon Phong has said that he is confident the steps taken by the airline in the last few years, including setting up a new Transformation Office recently, will pay off.

In May, a day after SIA reported a $138 million net loss between January and March, he declared that SIA was undertaking a major review of its business and was open to shifting the balance of power away from its trademark premium carrier to its regional and budget airlines, if necessary.

Last week, SIA reported an operating profit of $281 million for the April-to-June quarter.