WOO SIAN BOON
TODAY MONDAY 4 FEBRUARY 2013
SINGAPORE — A strong Singapore dollar and protracted negotiations between Singapore Airlines (SIA) and its staff union have caused unhappiness among some cabin crew, who have to pay back a significant portion of their location meal allowances.
These allowances are pegged to currency exchange rates and hotel menu prices in different regions. They are adjusted every two years to take into account changes in menu prices and every six months for currency exchange rate movements.
In a circular sent to SIA cabin crew last month, the carrier noted that there had been concerns about how the allowances were calculated.
It explained that the cut in meal allowances between July and December last year was based on hotel menu prices in different regions and currency exchange rates.
Allowances for January to June this year will be adjusted based on exchange rates alone.
While allowances are usually negotiated and agreed upon by the company and airline unions before the effective dates, negotiations last year did not conclude in time. As a result, cabin crew were paid an interim allowance from July to November last year, based on the previous rate.
With the agreement signed on Nov 20, the carrier said it would be making deductions and payments to salaries of cabin crew members, as a “retroactive adjustment” for the allowances already paid out from July to November.
The adjustments would also apply to technical crew, namely pilots.
“I assure you that the adjustment is not a ‘pay cut’ but is made necessary because of the delay in arriving at an agreement on the new rates,” said Mr William Koh, SIA’s Divisional Vice-President for Cabin Crew in the circular to staff.
According to SIA cabin crew TODAY spoke to, the allowances received for working on flights to European countries and the Americas were the hardest hit by the adjustment — by as much as 20 per cent. For example, the allowance for a five-day trip to London used to be about S$900 but has now decreased to about S$650.
Meanwhile, allowances for Asian countries such as China and India have been adjusted upwards by an average of 25 per cent.
The last time cabin crew members had to return a portion of their allowances was in 2004.
A 24-year-old flight stewardess who gave her name as Anastasia said: “They are affecting our morale yet they still expect us to give our best.”
Added a flight steward who wanted only to be known as Mr Lim, 30: “The fact that they did not take inflation into view, I feel that it’s poor judgment and the timing was just bad. They have not increased location meal allowances for a long time — in the five years I have been with the airline, they’ve already adjusted (allowances) downwards three times.”
Those who have left the company would not have to pay the company back, nor will they receive any back payments, said SIA spokesman Nicholas Ionides.
When contacted, SIA Staff Union Chairman Tony Sim said that the union — which represents more than 7,000 cabin crew — will be meeting with them to clarify that the adjustments do not mean a pay cut.