It was earlier reported that SIA Group had announced its decision to cut 4,300 positions across its airlines – Singapore Airlines, SilkAir and Scoot – as the aviation industry continues to be hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“After taking into account a recruitment freeze, natural attrition and the take-up of voluntary departure schemes, the potential number of staff impacted will be reduced to about 2,400 in Singapore and in overseas stations,” SIA said on 10 Sep.
Immediately following SIA’s announcement, Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung wrote on his Facebook page assuring that the vast majority of the affected 2,400 SIA staff were foreigners.
“What we have dreaded all these months has happened,” he said. “SIA will be reducing its global workforce. Some 2,400 staff based in Singapore and overseas will be affected, the vast majority being foreigners.”
“Government will do all we can to support the affected workers. We will work with NTUC Singapore and industry partners to place the workers in jobs, help them transit to other industries, or enrol them in suitable industry attachment and traineeship programmes… We will continue to press on, to restore air travel in a safe manner, to get SIA planes back up in the sky, and revive our air hub,” he added.
SIA foreign pilot: My fault for not applying PR and citizenship
TODAYonline later interviewed some of the SIA foreign pilots affected by the recent SIA retrenchment exercise. The news article was published on Sunday (27 Sep).
One of the retrenched foreign pilots was a Malaysian national in his mid-40s, who has been flying with SIA for over 20 years.
The Malaysian, who declined to be named, regretted deeply for not having tried to obtain Singapore citizenship or permanent residency.
“Flying is my forte. It’s all I’ve ever done. Stepping into the unknown, especially at this age, with a lack of experience in other areas, is quite scary,” he said, adding that he will be returning to Malaysia in three weeks’ time to avoid further racking up his expenses here.
“We are the first ones to go perhaps because we are not Singaporeans or permanent residents. Perhaps (with a citizenship) I could have just delayed my retrenchment… but it’s completely my fault,” he added.
Another retrenched foreign pilot, a Filipino, will also be returning back to his home country. He has been living here for the past 9 years with his wife and two of his four children. The Filipino who was an Employment Pass (EP) holder received the bad news on 14 Sep, 4 days after SIA announced its decision to cut staff.
He has a son in Secondary 1, who has lived in Singapore, since the age of four, and he will have to adapt to a whole new education system when he returns back to the Philippines.
“He’s most anxious about going back home. He will find himself a foreigner in his own country,” said the sad Filipino who also declined to be named.
As for himself, he said, “Right now, I’m very worried. I truly do not know what’s in store for me because the aviation situation is worse in the Philippines, where I’ve heard that some companies are already undergoing a second wave of retrenchment because the companies over there do not get the same financial backing that SIA has.”
All along, SIA usually hires pilots who are either Singapore citizens or permanent residents. But three years ago in 2017, it was reported that SIA suddenly ramped up its cadet pilot recruitment, even going way out to actively reaching out to hire more foreigners (‘SIA casts net wide to hire more cadet pilots‘, Jan 2017).
It was reported that its recruitment advertisements for cadet pilots had stated that all nationalities are welcome to apply. It was noted that the SIA recruitment at the time, was the first time it publicly cast its net wide to recruit foreign pilots in a big way.
Singapore senior pilot volunteers to make way for younger pilots to continue on in their jobs
Meanwhile, it was also reported in TODAYonline that a 59-year-old Singaporean pilot who has been with the airline for 27 years decided to seek early retirement in order to help his younger Singaporean colleagues continue on in their jobs.
“I’m already 59 and, looking at the situation, it’s not going to improve drastically in the next two or three years,” he said. “Right now, the younger colleagues are coming up and they haven’t seen the world. They have not even got anywhere close to what we’ve (older pilots) got.”
The retirement age for SIA pilots is 62. Pilots can be re-employed beyond the age of 62 on a contract basis until the age of 65.
“I think even if I have to downgrade to a smaller house, it’s not a big problem,” he said. “Most importantly, we are making space for the younger pilots to continue because they have many more years to go and families that need their support.”
The magnanimity of the senior pilot to help his fellow younger Singaporean colleagues is certainly commendable.