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Vietnam Airlines' pilots demand pay rise

Update: January, 13/2015 - 08:51
Vietnam Airlines' pilots on the runway. More than 100 employees have sought leave from the national carrier, prior to a go-slow strike demanding better payment. — Photo vef.vn

HA NOI (VNS) — More than 100 employees of Vietnam Airlines (VNA) have sought leave from the national carrier, prior to a go-slow strike demanding better payment, but their demand has not been accepted.

The incident occurred after 117 pilots filed for sick leave during the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday, while more than 30 pilots from the Airbus fleet wanted to resign.

Anticipating the seriousness of the problem, VNA asked the Minister of Transport Dinh La Thang to intervene, who then directed the Civil Aviation Authority of Viet Nam (CAAV) to decline all leave applications from VNA employees temporarily in an effort to ensure the smooth running of the airline's on-going operations.

Thang has also requested the national carrier to evaluate and raise the income of these employees during the first quarter of this year.

Speaking at a press conference in Ha Noi yesterday, Vietnam Airlines CEO, Pham Ngoc Minh, said the number of pilots, who apply for sick leave, had doubled during the 2013 to 2014 period.

However, only 10 pilots had produced a doctor's certificate to justify their health conditions.

"The pilots' applying for sick leave and the resignations submitted by more than 30 pilots are unusual and serious. It not only directly impacts the VNA's operations and business, but also negatively influences other pilots and staff members," said Minh.

The disparity between the salaries of pilots hired domestically and those hired from abroad by VNA is being seen as the main cause for discontent. VNA currently pays its foreign pilots $10,000 to $12,000 per month.

In 2008, VNA had formulated a roadmap for reforming the salary structure of the whole corporation, under which the domestic pilots' income would appreciate regularly and be capped when it touched 80 per cent of the foreign pilots' pay.

"At this time, the domestic pilots' income is 75 per cent of the foreign pilots'. However, I need to stress that domestic pilots' income is pre-tax income. Meanwhile, the foreign pilots pay also constitutes the payment made to pilot management firms, which have signed contracts with VNA," Minh explained.

The gap in the salaries of domestic and foreign pilots has raised questions among the former as to why the disparity should exist in the first place, considering that both are fulfilling the same role and serving in the same capacity?

As a result, a number of pilots have sought to resign and seek employment at other airlines, which is being seen as competition among airlines in Viet Nam.

A VNA pilot, who wanted to remain anonymous, told Viet Nam News that another firm had offered him a salary that was much higher than what the VNA is paying him.

"The offer really surprised me, but I still refused because I thought my job with VNA is more secure," the pilot stated.

Commenting on Vietjet Air, which is said to be poaching staff from other airlines, including VNA, Minh said he did not think that VNA's go-slow strike has been caused by Vietjet Air, but that the issue can only sorted out by resolving the pilots' difficulties thoroughly.

VNA also revealed during the press conference yesterday that it has reformed its salary structure five times since 2008.

As a result, pilots' salaries have appreciated regularly, with the latest hike having taken place in December, 2014. For example, the salary for a B777-A330 captain will be raised to VND177 million ($8,310) by July 2015 from VND132 million in September 2014; while an A321 captain will be paid VND158.8 million ($7,420) in July 2015, up from VND115 million ($5,400) in September 2014.

Although the pilots' salaries have been raised regularly, they are still lower than what other Asian airlines pay, including Turkish Airlines, Asiana Airlines and Jestar Airlines, where the aforementioned employees are paid US$11,970, $10,500 and $12,630 per month, respectively.

Going forward, VNA will collaborate with the Ministry of Transport to evaluate its salary structure and clarify regulations in order to tighten its management. As for the pilots, the VNA has set a fresh target for enrolling and training pilots, so as to boost the percentage of Vietnamese pilots in its staff. In 2010, foreign pilots made up for about 50 per cent of the total 600 pilots employed by VNA, which slid to 22 per cent in 2014.

The loss of talent is a problem faced not only by VNA, but many other companies in Viet Nam, where employees want to choose employers, based not only on a better pay packet, but also a good working environment. — VNS

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