18.35 Activism - Young Union Leaders
Journeying Through the Rough Ride of the Aviation Industry

Driven by her passion to travel, Huang Huifang had always wanted a job in the aviation industry. It was a dream came true when she joined Scoot’s sales operation team five years ago. Huifang facilitated sales and account management activities for customers and airline partners, until the outbreak of COVID-19 changed her work focus last year.

At the height of the pandemic, Huifang and her team worked tirelessly to arrange for repatriation flights to bring Singaporeans from all over the world back home. Emotions rode high amid the sensitive period as the tiniest hiccup could jeopardise the entire flight and affect the smooth return of the passengers. Despite the challenging situation, the “thank yous” and gratitude notes from passengers kept Huifang and her team going.

Pressing flight arrangements were not the only tough issue that Huifang had to manage. As a union leader with Scoot Staff Union (STSU), she had to address the inevitable grim circumstances facing the airline industry – retrenchment. It was a stressful period for STSU, which hoped to help both the employers and employees through an unprecedented crisis last year. Huifang, together with other union leaders, worked closely with the management to obtain the best pay-out possible for the retrenched employees. The support went beyond assisting with the retrenchment package. The union expressed solidarity with those affected and looked out closely for employees in need to offer additional help in areas such as their subsequent job search.

“It was painful having to deliver news of retrenchment to our fellow comrades. However, we knew it was needed as the company simply could not afford to sustain the costs over a prolonged period. Thanks to the help and advice from NTUC, and an empathetic management which tried its best to address the employees’ welfare, that we were able to negotiate a fair package to safeguard the interests of affected staff,” recounted Huifang.

The difficulties confronting the airline industry are far from over, with the pandemic showing little signs of abating in some parts of the world. With air travel nowhere near the level during pre-COVID-19 days, Huifang and her team have to adapt to fast changes in their scope of work as the company uses this downtime to improve its operations. The team now focuses on process automation, system improvement and enhancement of passengers’ experience, to be well-prepared for progressive recovery in air travel.

With the most chaotic period behind them, Huifang looks ahead with confidence, “Not everything is bad in a crisis. The industry as a whole is speeding up on digitalisation. In overcoming the challenges we faced each step of the way, we have also grown in our roles at work.”

For someone who initially joined the union because she wanted to “meet and interact with colleagues from other departments”, Huifang has found great meaning through her involvement. She was glad to be able to play a part in easing the situation for her colleagues in need, during gruelling times such as the retrenchment period. “Even in good times, the union will continually look out for the interests of the members. There is always something to improve upon to make our workplaces and work conditions better,” she shared.