Government to amend law to control SIA pilots’ union

December 1, 2003
Singapore Democrats

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Associated Press

(See also SDP media release “PAP the one who will ‘do Singapore in'” in the section below)

The government will step in if disgruntled pilots strike over a festering wage dispute with the city-state’s national airline, the deputy prime minister was quoted as saying Saturday.

“The pilots, the leaders of this group, have to think carefully, do they really want to take on the government?” Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was reported as saying in the Straits Times newspaper.

“I don’t want to do you in, but I don’t want anybody to do Singapore in,” Lee said.

The Airline Pilots Association of Singapore union has not said that it plans to strike, but its members last week voted out the union’s leadership – claiming they caved in too easily to Singapore Airlines in negotiations over wage cuts and layoffs last spring.

More than 180 pilots were laid off during the height of the SARS outbreak last spring, while others took wage cuts of between 11 and 16.5 percent.

The report said the ruling People’s Action Party was concerned a pilot’s strike would hurt SIA’s reputation and bottom-line. SIA pilots went on strike in 1980.

The airline has said the cost-cutting measures were necessary to keep one of the world’s most profitable airlines afloat.

Lee, the son of Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew, is slated to replace Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong by 2005.

The pilots ousted their leaders after SIA posted a 306 million Singapore dollar (US$177 million) profit for the July-September period last month. Lee is the third minister in a week to issue a warning to SIA’s pilots.

Opposition groups have criticized the government for meddling in the union’s internal affairs.

“Strong-arm tactics by the government to force the union to accept their terms cannot inspire workers to give their best,” said Chee Soon Juan, the Singapore Democratic Party leader.

The Airline Pilots Association and Lee’s office were not immediately available for comment. Singapore Airlines is majority owned by Temasek Holdings, the government’s investment arm.