I note with grave concern the various comments attributed to politicians from both sides of the divide as they opined that Unions of the national airline were unreasonable in their demands, imputing that the employees were asking for the “moon” in terms & conditions of service, including perks & emoluments.
I would normally allow the current Union(s) leadership themselves to respond to the adverse inferences but I know that most Union Officials love the airline and are professionals who would not jeopardize its image or status publicly unless provoked or hard-pressed by excruciating circumstances that if not mitigated would prove detrimental to the very existence of the airline.
Two nights ago, frank and candid views were aired on TV3 by Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Abdul Rahman, a respectable gentleman who had once served with colours as MD of the airline. I was most fortunate to have been acquainted with him when representing AMALAE, the airline’s engineer fraternity. Also aired were the views of Datuk Nur Jazlan, the Chairman of the Public Account Committee.
As a responsible citizen and active unionist, though retired from the airline in end-2012, my conscience compels me to reveal the following about Unions in the national airline and that would be the truth.
Contrary to general perception, a Union is just an organized group of employees that represents and collectively highlights the plights of the employees to Management and also negotiate for a Collective Agreement with fair terms & conditions of service of employment concurrent with prevalent working scenario. I do not deny that the Unions would strive to obtain the best if not fairest terms & condition of service and this, simply put, translate to Ringgit & Sen.
But what most fail to understand is that the function of a trade union goes beyond that, extending well into the purview of employees’ safety, safety of his employer (and for airlines + aircraft) and the general public. You would notice that I had used the word “public” instead of “paying passengers” who are core business partners of the airline. This is no rocket science except to emphasize in air transport industry, casualties and collaterals for lapse in safety does not confine to crew and passengers only, but extend beyond into the realm of innocent public and properties in the vicinity of a crash.
To explain the above contention, investigations and findings following 2 catastrophic international air accidents involving airlines are illustrated below, albeit the identity of the airlines involved.
a) In May 2010, a 2 year old Boeing B737-800 Next Generation aircraft flew from a Middle East city to an airport in the Indian sub-continent with 166 passengers. The Commander of the ill-fated (non-unionised) Operator’s aircraft feeding the main airline (unionised) was compelled by his employer to fly several sectors, with insufficient rest in between.
When close to the destination airport, the aircraft flew a non-standard, unstabilised approach to the runway situated on a “table-top” hillside that is designated as a critical airfield that mandate heightened awareness and a very precise landing approach only Commanders were allowed to perform. It touchdown about 2000 feet beyond the usual touchdown zone (TDZ) and with less than half of the runway remaining available, overshot, fell over a cliff and caught fire. At the bottom of the cliff was a squatter colony. Altogether, 158 souls on board the aircraft perished and a further undisclosed number of squatters on the ground were killed or fatally injured.
The aircraft’s 2 black boxes were recovered and analysis of their recording revealed a lull of about 110 minutes with some peculiar noise heard. Further analysis shows the Commander so severely fatigued that he was captured on the Cockpit Voice Recorder as snoring substantially.
Incidentally, had that service been operated by the unionised main airline, such onset of crew fatigue would have been arrested or mitigated as the Collective Agreement with the union has specific provision for strict adherence to pre-flight rest and allowing, as added measures, a pilot to refuse flight in fatigued condition for very obvious safety reasons.
b) In October 2000 a 4 year old Boeing B747-400 jumbo aircraft with 179 passengers inadvertently strayed onto a non-active runway in Taipei. The inactive runway was not barricaded and during its takeoff roll, the aircraft crashed into construction equipments left on the runway. The error was partly contributed by the inactive runway lights being left on as it share a common switch with the active parallel runway on which the flight was cleared to departure on. At that time, the airport was lash by heavy rain that precedes an oncoming typhoon.
Like most other foreign carrier leaving the airport, they were in haste to take off and leave prior closure. All three pilots (highly competent with abundant flight hours) due to the poor visibility, inadvertently mistook the lighted inactive runway as the one cleared for departure and during takeoff roll, impacted construction equipments, broke up and burst in flames with 83 fatalities.
Commendably, 96 passengers survived, aided by impeccable training and high preparedness of the cabin crew who reacted with professionalism in evacuating passengers from the inferno.
Interestingly, a senior official of the airline had admitted liability initially but the truth was slowly uncovered revealing lapses including; inactive runway not barricaded; its runway lights not switched off and absence of airfield ground movement monitoring radar were contributory. The airline nevertheless stood fast on their crew’s skills and integrity throughout the investigation even though their pilots were detained.
Only after the local authority insisted on blaming the crew via release of an air accident report disputed by several parties as controversial, that the airline reluctantly conceded a degree of blame on pilots’ error.
There are many more international and even local accident/incident that could be quoted arising from adverse working conditions and poor management skill and organization that could fatally endanger the crew, passengers and the general public, but the 2 cases above would suffice to show that SAFETY of ALL parties is of PRIME concern and not just a lip service by certain personalities.
Unfortunately, in our own recent case of misfortune, I am of the opinion that the same views and spirit were NOT exhibited by our management or leadership. Moreover, it was further exacerbated by misleading and inaccurate information from the authorities and politicians who seem too eager to prematurely apportion culpability via release of ill-informed, inaccurate and misleading information.
Inevitably, they only help provided was to cast further aspersions on the crews (in turn, airline) integrity, irrespective of fact that the aircraft has yet to be located and the poor crew were in no position to put up any defence against speculative and irresponsible deductions unsupported by any cogent evidence.
Personally, I blame the management action/omission for allowing others to freely assail the integrity of their employees, unions & associations that worked very hard and diligently to ensure operation safety. Don’t they notice that these are basically the same group of employees that had won international awards and accolades for excellence in operation, aircraft maintenance, safety and professionalism?
Don’t they realize that their brash and premature jabbering, disguised as informed findings had only served to cause insurmountable amount of anguish to family members of the poor souls on board the ill-fated flight, irrespective of crew or passengers?
Don’t Management knew that their omission/commission over such speculations contributes nothing more towards resolving the mystery but only served to create animosity, unnecessary and prolonged doubt on Safety & Integrity of the national airlines to the detriment of long serving staff who worked their level best to produce the much needed recovery of the airline?
I abhor the imputation that unions were demanding too much, thus making the economics of running the airline unsustainable. Ask any mid/lower level staff how much they are paid then and now and how much pay percentage rise they had secured in the past ten years and most would be too ashamed to admit they are nowhere close in comparison to even a civil servant with similar qualifications. I can safely tell you that mine was almost zero if not just a low number in the single digit “rise” percentage.
How about bonuses? I beg your pardon; but that word to the staff is equitable to a four-letter expletive as it is almost non-existent. Moreover being non-contractual, the last I could recall that it last paid many, many moons ago!
Aha! Never fear Datuk Nur Jazlan, you are not entirely wrong about staff cost, but just check what upper management and the Board were paid! But then, maybe they come with absolute accountability, right? But I tell you what, you tell us; how many have you made to pay for their shenanigans!
As for multi-skill tasking and downsizing, I just wish to relate to you an attempt by some smart Alex who compare our baggage loading workforce and turn-around time allocation as inefficient as compared to an LCC operation, only to discover that he fail to register that legacy or full-service airline passengers only paid premium for seat but get free baggage allowance of 20-30 KG depending on class of travel, whilst for LCC, the passengers never pack a big bag as their passage is cheap but they pay premium for anything other than a tote bag!
So you see my dear Datuk, it’s not an apple to apple comparison because we carry more baggage! The same argument applies to Food & Beverages.
How, anyone could conveniently discount the intrinsic of the airline that abide to every request of its political masters to fly the Nation’s Flag to even the most uneconomical destination, right from the early days, when everyone else would refuse to do such national service for losses?
Of course, how could you remember such sacrifices after the Jolly Reds were served our most lucrative routes on silver platters, in the guise of route rationalization by the very masters that conveniently secede our then ailing but potentially lucrative catering arm of the business, awarding a long-term, lop-sided contract to a new (politically connected?) entity to the absolute detriment and huge loss in term of long-term cost to the airline!
How, I recall the fanfare when another ex-MD contemplates making huge savings for the airline through a reduction/modification of meals/menu, but fail to realise that the catering contract for the seceded function had incorporated a fixed-cost per meal per passenger irrespective of cost! In the end, every apparent saving was simply reaped by the new catering provider as it is they who actually benefit as the unit cost of meal delivered is reduced but the charges remain the same! No prize for anyone who can guess who that ex-MD was and whether he put to any form of retribution!
Anyway, someone did finally managed to partly “exit” or partially evade the damning catering contract proviso by simply reassigning a substantial number of flights to be operated under a different Flagship of the Group, resulting in a true reduction of catering cost as meals served on board were source elsewhere. A round of applause for that ingenuity!
I certainly do not have any wish to embroil further in any form of semantics by degrading the very airline that I had proudly served for 40 years. I shall therefore rest my case.
Yes, I do concede that the union were apparently stubborn, but only for good reasons equitable to the Safety of Flight and Security of Tenure. Nothing more is taken for what provided and negotiated for in the CA but if those agreed terms were indiscriminately dishonoured, over our dead body!
My thanks and salutation to the esteemed Tan Sri Aziz, you have always listened to staff concerns and grouses without any bidding. But the same cannot be said of your successors. I had my share of advising them to listen out murmur from the grassroots, but have they?
To all politicians and the general public who were swayed into thinking that unions are just radicals and are impediments to progress, I only wish to state the wisdom enunciated by the current Vice President of Malaysia Airline Executive Staff Association (MESA), a registered and recognised trade union, i.e.:
“If the Management is sincere, resolve the employees issues and concerns amicably in a timely manner without short-changing the employees, there is no need or basis for the existence of unions”
Matdiah Bin Mohammad
Ex-Secretary of MESA
20 June 2014