KUALA LUMPUR: There is no slowing down for Malaysian Airline System Bhd’s (MAS) biggest trade union, the MAS Employees Union (Maseu), despite it having come under fire over demands that are deemed unreasonable by a key political leader.
Maseu members have held peaceful picketing over their dissatisfaction with MAS management over its plan to sell its engineering division. It has also called for MAS group chief executive officer (CEO) Ahmad Jauhari Yahya and two other top officials — engineering and cargo head Azhari Dahlan and director of human resources Zahrah Zaid — to resign.
In the wake of Maseu’s uproar, Public Accounts Committee (PAC) deputy chairman Dr Tan Seng Giaw — one of the country’s longest-serving Members of Parliament — had on June 16 said the union was making too many demands that undermine the financial health of the airline.
“You cannot blame the union [for doing so], it doesn’t run the airline. The management of the airline does,” Maseu executive secretary Mohd Jabbarullah Abd Kadir told The Edge Financial Daily.
“At Maseu, we know what we are doing. After three years of failing to deliver, it’s time for the three to go. There is no compromise on this,” he added.
Nevertheless, some quarters view Maseu as a huge stumbling block to the turnaround of the ailing national carrier.
That’s because the union is powerful enough to stop the airline’s corporate exercises, as evidenced by the unravelling of the MAS-AirAsia Bhd share swap exercise in 2012.
However, Maseu has its own issues. It may not be as influential as before, given that some of the cabin crew have broken away from the union. Of the 7,000 registered Maseu members, about 15% or fewer than 1,500 are cabin crew.
Furthermore, there are factions in the union. The unhappiness of Maseu members resulted in record nominations in the last Maseu elections held in late 2012. During the poll, some even intended to launch disciplinary inquiry on its leaders including president Alias Aziz and secretary-general Abdul Malek Ariff, but this did not take place. With the two incumbents still holding on to their posts, Maseu has not had its top leadership changed for at least 15 years.
Some say it is therefore ironic that the union wants a speedy change in MAS management.
Nevertheless, Jabbarullah defends that Maseu was never against transformation plans that will help turn around the airline.
He cited the full cooperation Maseu gave to MAS former managing director Datuk Seri Idris Jala, who is now CEO of the Performance Management & Delivery Unit. Idris’ turnaround plan then had involved the selling of MAS’ headquarters in Jalan Sultan Ismail, a mutual separation scheme (MSS) involving 2,600 employees or about 15% of MAS workforce then and improving the passenger yields of the national carrier.
For the financial year ended Dec 31, 2013, MAS chalked up a net loss of RM1.17 billion from a net loss of RM432.59 million the previous year.
Jabbarullah said cutting staff will not address the issues at MAS.
“Are we really overstaffed? We are short of pilots, cabin crew, airport operations and engineering staff,” he said.
Maseu also questioned the current management’s business model, including the airline’s load-active, yield-passive strategy.
“MAS is losing RM4 million daily, despite having an 80% load factor. This means the way it is doing business is not right. The business plan needs to be revised accordingly.
“We now have to compete with Malindo Air and AirAsia. MAS must relook its strategy. And who do we want to stay to fix the airline, the 20,000 staff or these three top officials?” he asked.
To put things in perspective, from day one of Ahmad Jauhari’s appointment to his current post, the relationship between him and the union leaders has been anything but cordial.
According to Jabbarullah, nothing much has changed since then, describing the relationship as “no good at all”.
Jabbarullah also said should a change of CEO take place, MAS has enough talent namely senior management to run the show, claiming that some senior managers have been “sidelined” after the new management led by Ahmad Jauhari took over three years ago.
“With the help of the senior management at MAS, they can turn around the airline,” he added.
He also said Maseu is against selling the airline’s engineering arm as the unit is a “cash cow” apart from losing its identity as a reputable maintenance, repair, and overhaul player.
“Look at catering, MAS has no identity in this department [today]. But when food is bad, customers do not complain to Brahims’ (Holdings Bhd), which has a 25-year concession with the airline. Rather, they complain to MAS which gets the bad reputation.
“Thus, we don’t want the engineering unit to end up in the same situation,” Jabbarullah added.
This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on June 30, 2014.