Major leadership fight to take off in SIA's biggest union

A major fight is brewing between factions over who should lead the close to 10,000 cabin crew and ground workers in Singapore Airlines' biggest union.

The Singapore Airlines Staff Union (Siasu), which does not represent pilots, helmed the last four years by president Tony Sim, 52, has until the end of June to hold elections and at least three teams are planning a takeover, sources said.

The two major contenders are a group led by the union's former vice-chairman of the cabin crew branch, Mr Vernon Lee, 46, and another group headed by former Siasu president, steward Alan Tan.

Both Mr Lee and Mr Tan are cabin crew supervisors.

Incumbent Mr Sim, who is also a cabin crew supervisor, has not decided if he will fight to keep his chair.

As SIA's earnings continue to be hit by rivals in the premium long-haul as well as regional market, managing staff expectations will become increasingly challenging, industry analysts said.

Operating profits in the three months to Dec 31 plunged by 33 per cent year on year to $87 million. The national push for firms to extend working years for employees has also put pressure on the airline to allow its more than 7,000 cabin crew to keep flying longer.

The Straits Times understands this is a key grouse among cabin crew.

This is despite progress made by the current union leadership, which managed to convince management to allow senior stewards to fly until 62.

Those who leave at 60 get a $50,000 gratuity.

Previously, many had to leave at 57 with the lump sum.

A senior cabin crew member, who asked not to be named, said: "Why take away the gratuity for those who leave at 62 and why not allow us to fly until 65 if we can still do the job?"

Flying years for the Singapore Girl were also extended, by up to three years, in 2012.

Junior stewardesses - who wear the blue kebaya - for example, can now fly for up to 20 years, instead of 17 before.

There is also some unhappiness over the current annual leave system, which requires cabin crew members to ballot for preferred dates about a year in advance.

Once confirmed, making changes is not easy, cabin crew said.

Mr Tan said: "Our aim is to improve overall welfare and morale and this is not always just about money."

Rival Mr Lee, who was part of Mr Sim's team until he and several other office-bearers walked out last year over differences which he did not wish to discuss, said: "We want to look forward and focus on how we can make things better for both staff and the company.

"But I will not discuss my plans until after the elections."