SINGAPORE Airlines (SIA) has agreed to let captains above the age of 62 keep their wings for an extra year, but there is a catch.
They must take unpaid leave for six months during the period. And those already past 62 and currently on re-employment contracts must go by the end of June - which means they have been given just an extra three months.
Still, the pilots' union has agreed to the in-principle deal, following unhappiness in January when SIA declared it would no longer re-employ captains once they reach the retirement age of 62.
The deal was struck last week after discussions between the union, Manpower Ministry and SIA.
SIA is pleased to have reached consensus on the matter, spokesman Nicholas Ionides said.
The union's president, Captain Mok Hin Choon, who has just turned 62, welcomed the management's decision to allow captains to stay in the air longer but is still disappointed it had to come to this.
"The decision to just drop the axe upon retirement on all captains suggests that no serious thought was given to re-employment. This is disappointing, considering that keeping older workers is a national agenda," he said.
"If we are serious, as a country, to push this through, then all companies, all firms must go beyond just paying lip service to the proposition."
Previously, re-employment contracts allowed pilots to fly until the age of 64.
Then came the January announcement. SIA said then that those on re-employment contracts had to to leave by the end of this month. SIA, which employs about 2,400 pilots, said the move was due to a manpower surplus that has persisted in the past few years.
This was despite several initiatives, such as asking pilots to go on voluntary unpaid leave.
SIA expects the pilot surplus to last, at the least, until next March.
This is mainly because the national carrier has not grown amid tough operating conditions which have hit profits and yields, industry analysts said.
Operating profits plunged by 33 per cent year on year to $87 million in the three months to Dec 31.
The January decision, which affected more than 90 captains, was challenged by the pilots led by the Air Line Pilots Association - Singapore (Alpa-S).
The Straits Times understands that the latest agreement is a temporary one until a detailed review of SIA's re-employment strategy for pilots, which will start later this year, is completed.
It will be up to the next batch of union leaders to take this forward, said Capt Mok.
After three years at the helm, he will step down when a new president is elected in the coming weeks.
The Straits Times understands that 58-year-old Captain P. James, who was union chief before Capt Mok took over, and Captain Ng Thim Fook, who is currently chairman of the union's SIA branch, are intending to contest the elections.
Neither could be reached for comment.
A senior pilot who did not want to be identified said: "The airline is facing challenging times and it is important, at this juncture, for the pilots to stand united so we can better engage management and see how we can work together for a collective brighter future."
This article was first published on March 9, 2015.
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