Flying ahead with clear vision


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  • Friday, 05 Jun 2015

SOME 20,000 employees of our national airline got their much-awaited or dreaded letter this week. I have seen the letter and overall I think it is a fair deal. All employees terminated (including those offered reemployment) will get termination benefits in accordance with the relevant labour laws or up to 0.55 times monthly salary per year of service. Those who are not offered will get up to 1.5 months of salary for each year of service. This is in accordance with the collective agreement (CA) and market practice.

It has taken years of doldrums, underperformance, poor management and two very unfortunate major air disasters to finally push for the complete overhaul of the national airline.

We even roped in a foreigner to head Malaysia Airlines for the first time. If this is not a wake-up call, I don’t know what is.

I have nothing against employing any nationality to head Malaysian companies. To be the best we must hire the best. And so far I have good vibes about the new CEO Christoph Mueller, a German.

I very much like his statement that he is not here to destroy jobs. It is just that 6,000 jobs are not there anymore. Laying off workers is one of the worst things ever. Believe me, I have been involved in bank restructuring, closure of electronic companies, retrenchments, VSS, MSS – you name it. It is not a pleasant experience.

It is so important to approach the whole issue in a humane, dignified and fair manner.

Readers will know I had serious issues with the way that Khazanah initially went about the restructuring.

We always seem to think that passing new laws will magically solve our problems. Laws are useless without fair, equal and effective enforcement. Our enforcement records are frankly such that I remember some minister had proposed a Law Enforcement Act to have better enforcement.

So Khazanah pushed the new Malaysian Airline System Bhd Act (MAS Act) to specifically target the employees of the national carrier and did not address issues of lopsided contracts and mismanagement head on.

Under the MAS Act, the new entity Malaysia Airlines Bhd (MAB) will not be responsible for any monies due to employees, including termination benefits of at least 6,000 who will lose their jobs.

MTUC believes the act violates Article 8 of the Federal Constitution that guarantees equal protection under the law. In this case, it appears that MAB employees are being discriminated if the company chooses to ignore the CA.

I believe that by targeting the employees and trade unions, the government is barking up the wrong tree. Until the issue of mismanagement is addressed head on, any restructuring is unlikely to succeed.

So I was very glad that MAS finally decided to pay the employees who are being laid off at the least the retrenchment benefits as per the collective agreements.

This is indeed welcome and will enable the new airline to move forward not just with a clear vision, but with a clear conscience.

I am again encouraged by the CEO’s words that he will ensure that those who have to leave MAS leave with dignity. It is not often we hear of bosses who make such remarks.

For any restructuring to succeed, it is so important that employees and unions must be on board.

I must also call on the employees and unions in the new MAB to also move ahead and work in a professional and transparent manner with the management to address productivity, motivation and teamwork issues which have hampered the airline. Unions must be adaptable and compromise where prudent.

I am not saying that MAS employees are lazy – far from it. Its systems and procedures require a total rethink.

Here again Mueller hit the nail on the head. He complained that MAS check-in counter staff are still using “green screens” where they have to enter complex codes to perform simple check-in for passengers. Now you know why the check-in queues at MAS counters are usually longer than other airlines.

This may be a relatively small issue, but as I have always said, if we do not take care of the small issues, what hope is there that we can solve the big ones?

So I am confident that Mueller and those employees who remain will soar again. Let’s hope there is no political interference from vested interests. Khazanah itself must clean up its act as well.

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