By Toh Ting Wei
The Straits Times/ANN
Staff were told of this during a virtual townhall on Thursday (Sept 10).
The airline said in a statement: "The Singapore Airlines (SIA) Group today announced the difficult decision to cut around 4,300 positions across its airlines. After taking into account a recruitment freeze, natural attrition and the take-up of voluntary departure schemes, the potential number of staff impacted will be reduced to about 2,400 in Singapore and in overseas stations.
"This decision was taken in light of the long road to recovery for the global airline industry due to the debilitating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the urgent need for the group's airlines to adapt to an uncertain future."
It said that the Group expects to operate at less than 50 per cent of its capacity at the end of the financial year in March next year, as compared to the levels before the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Relative to most major airlines in the world, the SIA Group is in an even more vulnerable position as it does not have a domestic market that will be the first to see a recovery,” added SIA.
“In order to remain viable in this uncertain landscape, the Group’s airlines will operate a smaller fleet for a reduced network compared to their pre-Covid operations in the coming years.”
In a memo to staff, SIA chief executive Goh Choon Phong said it was a “painfully difficult decision” to retrench staff, the toughest one that he has had to make in his 30 years at SIA. Mr Goh said that SIA is working with Singapore-based unions to finalise the arrangements for affected staff and to minimise stress and anxiety for them.
“For our impacted colleagues, please know that this is not a reflection of your individual strengths and capabilities,” he said.
“It is the result of an unprecedented travel paralysis brought about by a global pandemic. Please also be assured that we will conduct the process in a fair and respectful manner, and do our best to ensure that you receive all the necessary support during this very trying time.”
He urged staff to rally together to get through this difficult period.
The layoffs had been widely anticipated and come as international travel continues to be paralysed, with governments enforcing strict border controls to contain the pandemic.
While there has been some reopening in recent weeks for essential business and official travel between Singapore and selected countries, including China, the passenger and flight numbers are a tiny fraction of pre-pandemic days.
The International Air Transport Association has said that passenger demand for air travel is not expected to return to pre-crisis levels until 2024.
In July, SIA had reported a $1.12 billion net loss in the quarter ended June 30 - its largest quarterly loss on record, as demand plummeted amid travel restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Revenue for the group plunged 79.3 per cent to $851 million year on year, while expenditure dropped 51.6 per cent to $1.89 billion, the company said then.
At the height of the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak in 2003 - which was less devastating than the current pandemic - SIA retrenched several hundred staff, including pilots and cabin crew.
In a Facebook post on Thursday, labour chief Ng Chee Meng said: “While news that our local airlines have to right-size does not come as a shock in these times, we can’t help but still feel a deep sense of loss and sadness.
“I know it is tough for all concerned. But let us take heart, keep the faith and continue to support one another. Slowly but surely, we will emerge stronger together.”
The National Trades Union Congress deputy secretary-general Cham Hui Fong said that Singapore Airlines Staff Union and the Scoot Staff Union have been working closely with the SIA Group management in the last six months on various measures to mitigate retrenchment.
“Regrettably, these efforts were insufficient to avoid it completely and overcome the severity and prolonged impact of the Covid-19 pandemic,” she said.
“We will continue to work with SIA Group on training opportunities for its remaining workforce, as well as render assistance to those whose incomes have been impacted, so that they are able to tide through this difficult period and be well positioned for when the market recovers.”