The cabin crew on Singapore Airlines flights may be all smiles as they walk down the aisles, but trouble is brewing within a group representing a section of the national carrier's staff.
The tensions have sparked the resignations of about half of the 20 elected leaders of the cabin crew arm under the Singapore Airlines Staff Union (Siasu), which also includes engineers, technicians and general workers. Those who have stepped down include the cabin crew branch's former vice-chairman Vernon Lim, who is leading a breakaway faction unhappy with chairman Tony Sim.
The disgruntled group plans to contest the next election, which must be held by the end of June next year. It hopes to win the top post of Siasu president, a job held by Mr Sim since January 2011.
Siasu represents SIA's 7,400 cabin crew members and is the carrier's largest union.
SIA's Air Line Pilots Association-Singapore (Alpa-S) was in the news last year over discord within the SIA arm of the union but this is believed to be the first reported case of infighting in the cabin crew branch in recent years.
At the core of the tussle is a difference in working and negotiation styles, said Mr Logannaathan, the general secretary of Siasu's executive council. He said: "One group believes in old-style confrontational tactics, which has been the way the union has always dealt with management but Tony's style is different. He believes you can get more done through collaboration and here is where the two sides clash."
A union leader for more than 20 years, Mr Logannaathan said the current leadership has done some good things, such as convincing management that promotions and progress should be tied to performance and competency instead of just seniority.
In 2012, after over a year of wrangling with the union and intervention by the Manpower Ministry, SIA agreed to add up to three years to stewardesses' flying time.
Mr Lim confirmed that he has resigned as vice-chairman but declined to say more.
Other crew members who back him, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they were unhappy because benefits and perks are not as good as they were before.
Citing an example, a flight steward said a Singapore-London flight in the past would include working on both legs and being paid the stipulated allowances.
But these days, a crew member can be on duty for the flight to London, for instance, but fly home as a normal passenger.
"As a regular passenger, you are not on duty. That means you don't get your flying allowances, which make up as much as about 40 per cent of our total take-home pay," he said.
The Straits Times understands this happens when there is excess crew because the Singapore-London route is operated using both the Airbus 380 super jumbo and the smaller Boeing 777, which does not require as many cabin crew members to be on duty.
Said Mr Sim: "At the end of the day, we are elected members and we work for the members. Nothing else."
This article was first published on June 21, 2014.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.