TWO Singapore Airlines (SIA) captains are vying for the title of union chief, in a keenly contested fight to shape the future of pilots as the carrier continues to steer through some of its most challenging times.
Re-employment for retired pilots, even as the airline continues to grapple with an excess manpower situation, is among the key issues to be sorted out.
The new head will also lead negotiations with management for a new collective agreement on pilots' pay and other work terms and conditions for the next three years.
The incumbent president of the Air Line Pilots Association - Singapore (Alpa-S), Captain Mok Hin Choon, has held the position since 2012 and is stepping down after turning 62 recently.
Battling it out for his position are Captain P. James, 58, a veteran who occupied the chair for two three-year terms until 2012, and Captain Ng Thim Fook, a relative newcomer.
Capt Ng, 53, is the current chairman of the union's SIA branch - one of three arms within the union.
The other two arms are SilkAir and SIA Cargo.
Capt Ng came onto the scene two years ago and took over as head of Alpa-S' SIA branch after the committee disbanded in 2013 over personality and other differences.
In vote-appeal e-mails sent out last week, both contenders said there was much at stake in the coming years.
"Job security is the immediate pressing need of the pilots," wrote Capt James.
The aim is to make re-employment of all pilots - whether they are captains or first officers - a certainty and not an option, he wrote.
"We must ensure that all pilots are allowed to be employed till their licence expires (at 65)," he added.
SIA, which has about 2,100 pilots, used to allow them to fly until the age of 65, but this was cut to 62 for first officers a year ago.
Captains can fly an extra year, but they must take unpaid leave for six months during the period.
Pushing for more years will not be easy, Capt James noted.
"We are fully aware that our company may not grow as rapidly as we would like it to. In fact, the company may even shrink moving forward," he wrote.
But there are steps that can be taken, said Capt James.
For example, there could be the option of flexible deployment so pilots can move between airlines within the group instead of having to resign from one to join another, which is the current practice.
Capt Ng, in his e-mail message to union members, stressed the need for unity to push for pilots' rights.
"Partisan pettiness and politicking", which led to the dissolution of the SIA branch, have "turned the notion of service into personal battlegrounds", wrote the Airbus 380 captain.
Voting for the new president started last Friday and pilots have about three weeks to decide who to stand with. Following the election of the new president, pilots will vote for leaders to represent them in the union's three branches.
Of the lot, close to 30 will be in the Alpa-S decision-making executive council.
The full team will be sworn in during the annual general meeting some time in May.
This article was first published on Mar 24, 2015.
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