Unions galore at Malaysia Airlines

PHOTO: Unions galore at Malaysia Airlines

MALAYSIA - It is interesting to note that the National Union of Flight Attendants Malaysia (Nufam) has appointed itself as the union representing the cabin crew of Malaysia Airlines (MAS), although the airline had yet to recognise it up till yesterday.

MAS still recognises MAS Employees Union (Maseu) as the union that represents its cabin crew for remuneration negotiations and other matters. Nufam appointed itself by virtue of having obtained 62 per cent support from the cabin crew in a secret ballot that was held recently.

Although Nufam claims that the Human Resource Ministry has given it the nod to be the union of choice, MAS must agree to it too.

Whether Nufam would indeed be the union of choice remains to be seen, but some cabin crew members want to see a change because they believe they need a dedicated union to fight for their rights.

Maseu had been given a general recognition by MAS as its in-house union in 1979 to represent its non-executive employees, including its cabin crew, ie, graded staff.

It is said to have 15,000 members, making it the biggest in-house union out of the airline's eight unions and associations. Of the 15,000, about 3,500 are cabin crew members.

One of the grouses of the cabin crew is that they are getting too little in productivity hours as compared to other airlines. For the work they put in, they believe they deserve much more, or at least a rate comparable to what is being paid by other airlines.

They believe that while their contributions over the years have allowed the airline to win various accolades for best cabin crew, their remuneration is not reflective of the splendid work they have done. Nufam's emergence has surprised many, with some concluding that its creation might have been intentional to weaken Maseu.

The acknowledgement of Nufam as a union in MAS will also set a precedent for others to set up unions for the cargo, engineering and also technical non-executive segments.

The question is: Is MAS prepared for this?

Already, the carrier has eight unions and associations. Nufam would be its ninth, if accepted. And if the other three segments are formed, then it would round up to make a dozen, and that would make MAS, perhaps, the only company with a dozen unions.

Unions are necessary and Maseu has shown in the past how powerful a union can be by lobbying for the unbundling of the share swap with AirAsia Bhd. It is now rallying for a management change. Is the recognition of Nufam a move to weaken Maseu so that it cannot lobby for change then?