SIA reassures cabin crew on medical leave system

Promotions won't be denied just because they fall ill now and then

A Singapore Airlines air stewardess and an air steward returning from a flight at Changi Airport Terminal 2. PHOTO: ST FILE

Deserving cabin crew will not be denied promotions and rewards just because they may fall ill from time to time, Singapore Airlines (SIA) said.

In a circular issued yesterday to reassure staff - a copy of which was obtained by the Straits Times - SIA said that doing so was not tenable "as we would inevitably be depriving ourselves of good people moving up to assume leadership positions".

The note came after some crew members complained that the current scheme discourages those who are genuinely ill from taking medical leave.

Employees have incentive points that are docked when they submit a medical certificate - recorded as casual MC - for common ailments such as cold and cough.

Everyone starts with 10 points each year, which are progressively deducted and all lost once 12 casual MCs are accumulated.

SIA did not provide details of the scheme but said in its circular that the MC component makes up 4 to 6 per cent of the annual appraisal. When decisions are made on promotions, other factors are also taken into account and there is an interview round as well.

"We do, however, track crew who take many days of MC," SIA said.

This is to ensure that the employee is all right and to render any assistance necessary.

It is also important to make sure that there is no abuse of the medical leave system because when someone takes sick leave "for the wrong reasons", others on standby have to be activated .

Examples of MC abuse are when staff take MCs just before "unpopular" flights or when crew repeatedly report sick when called up for standby duty.

There are also cases of those who visit different clinics to obtain MCs, the airline said.

SIA stressed that turning up for work when crew feel unwell is unacceptable as it poses a risk not just to the staff, but also to colleagues and passengers .

The concerns raised by cabin crew follow the death of leading stewardess Vanessa Yeap, 38, in San Francisco last week.

She was due for a return flight to Singapore, with a stopover in Hong Kong, when she was found dead in her hotel room. She had allegedly told her colleagues that she was not feeling well. The cause of death has yet to be certified.

The Manpower Ministry is in touch with the airline and the union representing cabin crew about the concerns.

Meanwhile, cabin crew who contacted The Straits Times said that they were disappointed with the airline's latest circular. "It is quite clear that management sees nothing wrong with the current practice. There is no mention of a possible review or rethink, which is quite disheartening," said one.

Another steward said: "By all means, track and punish those who abuse the sick leave system. It's justified. But bottom line, the current system penalises everyone, including those who are genuinely ill. It does not matter how much weightage is given to the MC component. The fact that it is taken into account is unfair."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 09, 2017, with the headline SIA reassures cabin crew on medical leave system. Subscribe