The Ugly Truth Behind Singapore Airlines Medical Leave System For Cabin Crew

Ugly Truth at Singapore Airlines

Are you afraid to call sick for a flight thinking that it will affect your performance and delay your career progression? Do you feel “cornered” by company policy?

You are not alone! Every airline around the world will always have strict policies against cabin crew sick leaves.

These policies drew much attention lately following the unfortunate passing of Singapore Airlines Cabin crew, Vanessa Yeap, on January 31st, 2017.

Read along and see how airlines will still hold their ground against a policy that is obviously inhumane and doesn’t belong in the 21st century.

No matter which airline you are with, you’ll definitely relate to what’s going on in Singapore Airlines.


Uproar Caused By Flawed Singapore Airlines Medical Leave System

Reports in the tabloids, social media and radio airwaves have represented the perspectives of both cabin crew and the airline. The cabin crew is asking for better medical leave conditions while the airline maintains its defense of what seems to be unjust conditions as they penalize cabin crew for medical leave due to normal but still contagious ailments.

The fiasco resulted in an internal memo, dated February 8th, 2017, to the carrier’s 10,000 strong cabin crew from the Division’s Vice President. Its content is clearly defiant only to show that the airline is still totally unrepentant and oblivious to the situation at hand.

Read the memo below:

Singapore Airlines Medical Leave System - 1

Click to enlarge

While the airline continues to defend its position, service industry professionals have since expressed concerns over of the airlines’ responses to the media and how it interprets the guidelines mandated by Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

The airlines’ existing policies are suggestive of fear mongering and more empathy should be accorded to its 10,000 strong cabin crew workforce.

I hereby call to question what appears to be Singapore Airlines’ hardline stance on this matter.


Playing God

As with Singapore Airlines, any employer that includes medical leave as part of an appraisal element and playing “GOD” to departmentalize which sick leave as “Casual” or “Non-Casual” – and in turn demerit points from the employee thus impacting bonus and promotion –  is reckless and irresponsible.

Opinions today remain divided on how this would conform to acceptable Human Resource practices. But Singapore Airlines is without doubt defying medical opinion – one that is professionally accorded by decree.

Today’s appraisal system for Singapore Airlines’ cabin crew is as follows:

Singapore Airlines Medical Leave System - 3

Focusing on “Good Attendance Award”, this takes the following into account:

Singapore Airlines Medical Leave System - 2

Click to enlarge

So what qualifies as “Casual” medical leave?

Well, essentially everything, except for chicken pox, measles, cholera, typhoid, shingles (herpes zoster), mumps, paratyphoid, hepatitis, scabies, prolapsed invertebral disc, otitis media, fracture and / or ligament tear, bells palsy, paralysis, hand foot and mouth disease, gout, dengue fever, wisdom tooth surgery, chikungunya, tonsillitis; as well as those that require hospitalization, chemotherapy; or are the result from work related injuries.

So, if you’re suffering from flu, fever, diarrhea or conjunctivitis, you’re gonna get penalized if you file for absenteeism.

A mentality of master and slave with very little compassion for crew. 

I remain appalled as to how the airline can brazenly defend its somewhat “slavery and servitude” mandate as being compliant with MOM guidance.


What The Ministry Of Manpower Has To Say

MOM Guidance:

i) Paid sick and hospitalisation leave is a basic protection under the Employment Act and is also a core benefit in collective agreements. Employers should avoid penalising an employee solely based on his consumption of sick leave.

ii) Employers should appraise their employees fairly by taking into consideration “ability, performance and contributions”.

Singapore Airlines’ Statement to the Public:

a) “Crew members who are given medical leave are encouraged to rest and recuperate at home. Operating with an MC is a disciplinary lapse…”

b) “As with all other businesses, employee productivity and attendance at work are important for a successful airline operation.”

c) “Although crew attendance is a component in the performance management process, we would like to emphasise that crew performance is measured across many other factors.”


Staff Cornered By Policy

The airline may continue to qualify and defend its position via various permutations but what remains clear is that its appraisal takes into consideration the clocking of zero “Casual” MCs, which accrues towards a cabin crew’s bonus and promotion.

Reference the airlines’ statement (a): “Crew members who are given medical leave are encouraged to rest and recuperate at home. Operating with an MC is a disciplinary lapse…”

Well, Singapore Airlines, a policy that penalizes a crew for “Casual” MCs in the first instance already acts as a deterrent.

Ill crew are pressured to waive a doctor’s consultation or seek rest and pass up requesting for a medical certificate since “GOD” had decided that common symptoms such as flu, cough, fever, conjunctivitis, diarrhea, et al are considered non-severe, and per company policy, “casual” that affects their appraisal.

Crew have their arms twisted without “fair trial” because they are CORNERED by policy.

The sickly rostered crew reports for flight duty but only due to much fear and pressure of the associated penalties that could potentially be career limiting.

Has this been reviewed and approved by the company’s medical specialists? Was professional insight sought from psychologists to determine how human behavior may react to a policy that penalizes those who are genuinely unwell but are somehow forced to report for duty?


Risk Of Spreading Disease 

Doesn’t Singapore Airlines realize that its defense of its much faulted policy poses a direct health risk to passengers. It fails to associate the direct correlation to health risks this may pose for the passenger who paid premium dollar for that dear Singapore Airlines ticket. Is the airline being socially responsible to the traveling community?

The unwell crew who is dutifully performing their tasks on board, unintentionally passes flu, fever, cough, diarrhea, conjunctivitis et al to the unsuspecting passenger.

So who’s vicariously responsible for the spread of germs within an enclosed cabin? Singapore Airlines!

For convenience, blame the cabin crew. But to those who can evaluate the logic, the reason for this boils down to their policy that provides zero wriggle room.

With the likes of SARS, H1N1, H5N1 etc, breathlessness and other complications could arise from what appears to be common flu, fever etc. These illnesses classified by the airline as “Casual”, could have bigger and wider health concerns.


Do The Right Thing!

Indeed, there are cabin crew who call sick to avoid undesirable flights. However, Singapore Airlines should avoid penalizing the innocent yet send a strong message to those crew who choose to abuse their sick leave privileges.

Let’s be gracious and do the right thing, Singapore Airlines. Re-examine the policy for the good of your 10,000 front line crew, who are your ambassadors in the sky.

This is what any responsible employer would readily undertake and not find excuses to stubbornly justify policy that is without compassion and reason.

I respectfully ask that Singapore Airlines and its Management pledge to do what is humanly right; and as a responsible employer consider changes to its policies that have since drawn much negative response.

Make your 70th Anniversary be remembered for yet another gracious reason. Embrace change. Deploy a task force, cooperate and collaborate with the authorities/ MOM, and where need be, seek sound professional advice.

Draft a reasonable and responsible mandate that inspires your cabin crew to do more; providing optimum service with passion for an organization they love with all their heart.

Remember that internal beauty is just as important as external grace.


Further reading:

Former SIA Flight Attendant Exposes Severely Flawed Medical Leave System

SIA Refutes Netizens Claims Over MC Rules

Ministry Of Manpower: All Employees Have Right MCS

SIA Cabin Crew Unhappy Over Medical Leave System

SIA needs to rethink its position on MCs


This article was submitted by a concerned frequent flyer on Singapore Airlines who decided to stand up for what is right, just and humane. 


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