Saturday, June 28, 2014

Carry on dreaming about the elusive change

A few decades ago, there were a series of comedy movies with the title beginning with ‘Carry on....’, my articles too, since the last two by-elections, have been talking about the possibilities of change in the way Malaysians do things.

I was really amused reading the Sun, Monday June 18 headlines, ‘MAS unions RAPPED’. The PAC deputy chairman was quoted:” If the demand and threats undermine MAS, and if they result in the collapse of productivity, how can MAS perform?” Wah! What words of courage and wisdom from PAC, to remedy an airline that is losing billions. This is the reason why everything is falling apart in Malaysia. When things go wrong they always blame the tool or ordinary worker, in this case the union too. Anybody with an iota of self-respect and common sense knows that the workers are answerable to a pyramid of superiors that goes up to the top, the CEO. The PAC chairman is still alive and active, so why should the deputy make this unfavourable statement about MAS unions and workers? The MAS workers are majority Malays, thus wouldn’t the advice or warning from the chairman be more effective? Is it a policy that Umno must always be the good guys, therefore any detrimental statement about the other races and religions must come from some secretly Umno supported NGO? I wish our high officials will take responsibility and bravely act to show it.

Is it fair to blame workers, who are controlled by all the agreements and laws governing their work environment and productivity? The right to hire and fire, according to the collective agreements, is in the hands of executives. The workers did not produce or sign the contract for the ‘naked Nasi lemak’ which was served to passengers including our celebrity Chef Wan. They were not responsible for MH370 episode but were victims of it. They did not allow those with stolen passports to board the plane. They did not decide that the batteries and off season mangosteens be loaded on the plane. In fact, they could have sabotaged whatever our top officials were saying at briefings, by leaking the secrets though some of their fellow workers and their families were the victims. Tell me which Malaysian believes that the mangosteen season is before May. They did not decide that MAS should employ 20,000 workers for an airline that is smaller than Air Asia, which can get more done with less staff. They did not decide that MAS should buy RR engines, which failed frequently, instead of the original P&W engines for their Boeing aircrafts. I can list many more examples of things the workers were innocent about because the officials were the culprits who decided those things. Blaming them for MAS’s colossal failures and financial disasters is ‘unkindest cut of all’ using Shakespeare’s language.

The report also blamed the unions for failure of the merger between MAS and Air Asia. The PAC official also said.”(The) Ailing airline can’t survive unreasonable demands. If the demand and threats undermine MAS, and if they result in the collapse of productivity, how can MAS perform? So, I would say they are illogical and destructive to everyone, not only to MAS but to the image of Malaysia as well.” The report also highlighted and criticised MAS’s biggest union, (Maseu) for threatening to strike if its demands ‘to remove key management executives and for the government to intervene in the airline’s current issues were not met’.

In any organisation the workers are like the ‘worker ants’ doing everything for the ‘queen ant’, which is the manager of the nest. Like the soldiers ‘theirs is not to question why, theirs is to do or die’. MAS is very lucky because the workers have formed many unions according to category and skills. It makes it easier to deal with specific problems. The key to success in any set-up is the mutual respect and confidence which people involved display. My late brother worked with MSA and then moved to KL upon the formation of MAS. He headed the Avionics workshop. He used to tell me a lot about what happened in MAS and at their airport facilities. The corruption (under qualified and political appointments, pilfering of privileged materials, unnecessary travels and perks) that happen at the very top level management eat away a very large portion of the profits. Statistics of Haj and Umrah trips which some top officials have made will shock everyone. Some MAS families brag about more than a dozen trips including even during Ramadan.

Recently while coaching my grandson in his studies, I told him, “You have very good teachers, who give you plenty of homework.” His reply was,” My language teacher is a very lazy person who eats all the time. She does not mark the work and she scolds us most of the time. The Agama teacher is on the phone most of the time even during class” So the management (parents and HM) will think plenty of home work means hard working while the students (workers) know the truth about the quality, temperament and efficiency. The MAS management which is the cause of the airline’s failure should listen to the unions whose ‘bread and butter’ depend on the airline’s success. The bold and unpopular remedy Maseu is demanding deserves consideration.

Blaming the unions for the failure of the merger between MAS and Air Asia is wrong because mergers among companies involve the problem of who is in control. Let us not fool ourselves by throwing in our 4thPM’s opinion about the merger being good for MAS, because 22 years of his rule is the cause of many of the things wrong with Malaysia. When Bank Bumiputra, the pride of Malaysia, merged with a bank 25% its size to form CIMB, the joke was, ‘ular lidi telan ular sawa’. When a small firm merged with a large firm where my wife was the Admin and HR manager, her biggest problem was to make the small firm’s key personnel to work under her firm’s top officials. It is like having two teachers in the class at the same time or two HMs in one school. Somebody has to give in. What Maseu must have done was to highlight the workers’ and even the now the ungrateful MAS top management officials’ problems. We should not forget that MAS was losing millions while Air Asia was and still is a success story. Whose voice would have been the loudest?

What are the options for MAS’s future?

Option one is to pump in money to keep MAS’ name alive. Change the management to gain public confidence and bring new ideas to run the airline. The workers are the easiest to accommodate because their future depends on the airline’s success. Nobody wants to be jobless. Apply the rules to hire and fire. From history we know about one famous MAS strike during our 3rd PM’s period. Our aircraft was stranded in Australia because the transport workers’ union in Australia in support of MAS workers refused to refuel our aircraft for the return flight. Our brilliant PM got the then Australian PM’s support to get the aircraft refueled by the RAAF. The MAS management did not give in, the workers did. The strike is a way to break the unions’ strength. In late 1960s, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) went on strike. Less than 20% of us took the bold step to strike. Some of those who did, missed out for promotion.

Option two is to disband MAS and begin a new airline. All the old problems will become history. Of course, the management has to be bold enough to really hire the best in terms of work quality. They should apply this saying as their motto, ’He who pays the piper calls the tune’. I do not have much faith in BN doing this, because all they can think about is having a few RELA types of bodies to get votes for BN during elections for their continued survival by dishonesty. We still remember our Home Minister’s threat or joke to RELA during the Teluk Intan by election. Of course, we should also not forget the parasites who will line up at the back door to get projects and contracts for everything, ‘naked nasi lemak’ included.

Option three is to swallow the pride and let Air Asia take over. From its track record, AA will make our airline industry the best in the world. The AA management is the pride of Malaysia for the successes and innovations, though sometimes at passengers’ discomfort. 

The third option will be the best news for us because we are starving for good news and recognition after our disastrous performance in the MH370 episode. We want MAS to be a forgotten bad dream. As long as MH370 is not found, we will remain the topic of international jokes for all the wrong reasons. Even our list of searches at wrong locations is enough to magnify our failures. Let us end this MAS blame game and find ways to solve the problem which is causing losses in billions.