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Opening Address by Ms Indranee Rajah, Second Minister for Finance, at The Singapore Airport Terminal Services Workers' Union (SATSWU) 5th Quadrennial Convention of Delegates 2022, on 14 September 2022, at Orchid Country Club, Grand Ballroom

14 Sep 2022

Mr Poobalan A Kumarasamy, President, SATSWU,

Mr Kerry Mok, President and Chief Executive Officer, SATS,

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Brothers and sisters

A very good morning to all of you, and I am very happy to be here with you after so long of not being able to see everyone face to face.  

Working as OneAviation 

2. The last 2 years have been particularly challenging for the aviation sector due to COVID-19. No one could have envisaged the impact of the pandemic: 

a. In 2020, international passenger demand for air travel fell by more than 75% compared to 2019. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), 2020 was the worst year in history for air travel demand since records began in the 1950s. 

b. The impact on Singapore’s passenger traffic at Changi Airport was even more severe. At the peak of the pandemic in April and May 2020, passenger traffic fell to only 0.5% of pre-COVID levels.

3. Many companies then had to make difficult decisions, including whether or not to lay-off or redeploy their staff.

4. In Singapore, we were fortunate to be able to leverage our strong tripartite partnership forged over the years. This enabled us to preserve our local aviation workforce, even as we needed to take swift and decisive actions to curb the spread of the virus.

a. The Government committed significant amount of fiscal resources to tide companies through the crisis. This included funding support for wages and trainings to protect livelihoods. We were also able to quickly implement public health safeguards to enable safe air travel and protect both aviation workers and the wider community. Yesterday, I gave an update on the expenditure – which has been about $72 billion – that is how much we had to spend to keep everybody safe and bring them through the crisis.

b. We were able to do that because our unions and employers also worked closely to facilitate redeployments of staff and set up collaborative platforms in the form of Company Training Committees (CTCs). These CTCs allowed businesses and workers to pivot and transform during this critical period. 

c. CAAS and NTUC’s Aerospace and Aviation Cluster, which comprises nine unions including SATSWU, also launched the Singapore OneAviation Reskilling grant, or SOAR, to support more than 11,000 training programmes that are either self-initiated by workers, or collectively through their unions via these CTCs.

5. This strong tripartite partnership is a key reason why we have been able to tide through the difficult period and emerge more resilient. And on this note, I would like to thank the unions and companies for your unwavering support, and to our aviation workers, who made many sacrifices to keep Changi Airport operational throughout the pandemic and put the aviation sector on a firm footing for recovery. 

Positioning for recovery

6. With the reopening of our borders and easing of border measures, we are now seeing promising signs of recovery. 

a. As of August this year, weekly passenger traffic at Changi Airport had recovered to about 58% of pre-COVID levels. 

b. The IATA is also optimistic about the recovery of the industry, and has projected that global passenger traffic will recover to pre-COVID levels in 2024. In its latest analysis in June 2022, it further brought forward its projections for international air travel recovery. 

7. There are good reasons to be optimistic about our journey to full recovery and future growth. However, if we are to reap the full potential of this, we have to ensure that the sector has the requisite manpower and skills to keep pace with the rebound in air travel demand.

a. For this reason, there have also been many sector-wide efforts, such as the OneAviation Careers Fair held in May this year, to promote attractive and quality jobs, and to bring in more talent into the sector. These efforts are aimed not just at bringing back workers who have left the sector, but also introduce roles in emerging areas like sustainability and technology.

b. I am also happy to hear that our aviation partners have been ramping up their operations to meet the anticipated increase in volume. For example, the staff headcount of SATS has exceeded 80% of pre-COVID levels as of June. Our partners also continue to invest heavily in staff to level up their skills for operational efficiency, and I am confident that these moves will help support further growth on the back of the aviation sector’s recovery.

Good jobs for Singaporeans

8. The strong recovery of air travel – both globally and in Singapore – has shown that the longer-term prospect for aviation remains bright. The Government has announced the restart of the Terminal 5 project to ensure that we have the capacity to capture the growth in air travel demand. We must also continue to maintain a steady flow of local talent into the industry and transform our sector to become more productive through automation, digitalisation, and job redesign. 

a. Take for example the ongoing pilot between SATS and Changi Airport Group (CAG) to use automated guided vehicles (AGVs) for towing of cargo and baggage containers at Changi’s airside. This will allow greater opportunities for current drivers to contribute to higher value-added work, and also create new roles in areas like engineering and software programming. 

b. I trust and hope that our tripartite partners will continue to do good work and continue supporting our businesses and workers on their transformation journeys. 

9. I hope both the union and management of our aviation partners will continue working closely together through the CTCs, to identify possible skill gaps and training needs, and to continue transforming our industry’s jobs to be smarter, safer, and future-ready.

10. In closing, let me take this opportunity to congratulate SATSWU on your 5th Quadrennial Convention of Delegates this year, and to thank the current EXCO for all your hard work. I am confident that our Air Hub will continue to reach new heights.

11. Thank you all very much.