By Karamjit Kaur, Aviation Correspondent
SINGAPORE Airlines used to pay cabin crew a gratuity of $15,000 upon completion of five years of service.
This has now been cut to $10,000, but a bigger gratuity awaits those who stay on: Junior crew who stay 10 years, for example, will now collect $35,000 - $5,000 more than before.
SIA has more than 7,000 cabin crew and although the number who leave before or after five years is not very high, it wants to retain experienced staff.
Spokesman Stephen Forshaw told The Straits Times of this move to encourage loyalty: 'We train and create good crew, so we want to encourage more to stay on.'
Tweaks to the gratuity payouts are among work and other conditions in a new collective agreement sealed last month between the airline and its largest union, the SIA Staff Union (Siasu), which represents cabin crew and other rank-and-file staff.
The deal, like the one SIA management also sealed with its pilots recently, will be for three years. They bring to an end this latest round of troubled labour relations for the airline.
A key change in the new pact for cabin crew: Higher retirement benefits for stewards who joined before 2004. That was the year SIA decided that all male and female cabin crew would be hired on a five-year contract basis. Before that, stewards received appointment letters and could stay until retirement, while stewardesses were hired on five-year contracts.
Under the new compensation package for stewards who joined before 2004, everyone - with the exception of very senior crew - will receive a higher payout when they leave. The ceiling is $115,000.
Depending on rank and age, the increase ranges from 7 per cent to over 100 per cent, with the main beneficiaries being those aged between 45 and 50. The idea is to give them a headstart in starting a second career, said Siasu president Alan Tan.
Mr Forshaw explained that the changes give newer staff reason to stay on, while providing renewal opportunities to those who feel they have peaked and reached as high a level as they can go.
An SIA stewardess with 14 years of experience, who did not want to be named, does not appear to think these changes will work.
'The higher gratuity payments may encourage some to stay on, but the truth is, this is not an easy job and lethargy sets in after a few years.
'We get many graduates who come in, fly for three to five years and then move on to other professions.'
But she conceded that the looming economic recession could make people think twice before quitting.
SIA has already been hit. In the three months to the end of September, profits were down 36.2 per cent to $323.8 million, compared to the second quarter of the last financial year.
Last month, SIA filled 77.5 per cent of seats on average, a drop of 0.8 percentage point over the same month last year. It was the 10th straight month of decline.
Some poor-performing routes have been dropped, and SIA is expecting minimal growth next year; it is in talks with the union to use smaller crews on flights with few passengers.
Officially, there has been no talk of cost-cutting steps. Siasu general-secretary Mohamed Hussain Kassim said: 'If it comes to that, we will sit and discuss it rationally. But the management must be upfront and sincere.
'If the company is in trouble, we as a union will work with management to deal with the issues. The priority is to retain jobs and retrenchment must be a last resort.'