Struggle of local pilots continues with 14-day notice

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THE issue of local pilots in the Solomon Airlines continues with a 14-day notice given to management for recognition of agreement or face a 28-day strike notice.

Since the beginning of this year, local pilots have waged a campaign against what they term as privations within the airlines, many complaining that their careers as aviators are being stifled.

Island Sun has been following this issue and earlier reported that the local pilots had recently established an association through which they can channel their issues of concern. And, on January 25 this year management was slapped with a 28-day sit-in notice to address pilots’ grievances.

However, due to certain technical procedural matters, the pilots with legal advice have on Monday this week (Feb 19) submitted a 14-day request that management accepts a recognition of agreement to the pilots’ newly formed association.

From there, hopefully negotiations could proceed between the two parties. But, insiders say if management refuses to recognise the pilots’ association or fail to reply by March 2, then the pilots will issue a 28-day strike notice.

Late last month, local pilots issued management with a 28-day sit-in notice in which they asked management to resolve what the pilots deem as mistreatment and unfairness. The pilots’ action is a culmination of many years of enduring privations in the airlines.

In their initial 28-day sit-in notice, the following were outlined pending address by management.

Housing

According to the pilots, the elephant in the room is the issue of housing for the hard working local pilots, especially the first officers (FO). Solomon Airlines has a housing compound in Tandai, west Honiara, which was built purposely to house pilots.

However, recently the compound has been occupied by expats and one of the houses is being occupied by Tyson, the HR manager – who is not a pilot to begin with, and another is being occupied by a non-pilot female employee of SolAir. There are two houses in the compound which are currently vacant.

Meanwhile, local pilots both FO and few captains are bunking in with relatives along with their families.

Furthermore, sources say that a few SolAir houses around town are also vacant at the moment.

The pilots say, “It is discouraging for the indigenous pilots when nearly a dozen are neglected by company especially to provide them with houses when the expats receive immediate and maximum attention even to their slightest of problems.

“Solomon Islander FO pilots are given a mere $300 per fortnight housing allowance and expected to have a stable mind when they come to office every morning to fly a plane. This is totally irresponsible of management.”

Island Sun understands that the housing issue also affects indigenous Solomon Islanders working as engineers, some of whom are literally living in the hangars at the airport.

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Sources say, “A few local engineers sleep and basically live in the hangars at the airport because the company does not provide them with houses and they do not have close relatives living in town with whom they can live.”

Company assistances

Other pilot grievances include other benefits such as education assistance, utility assistance, and rental assistance which they say are no way near what management and other ‘seniors’ are enjoying.

“Solomon Airlines rakes in millions of dollars and 90 percent of that comes from the domestic service which revolves on the hard work of the indigenous pilots, and we get meagre entitlements while the international service and management enjoy lucrative benefits,” the pilots say.

Capacity enhancement training

Local pilots are requesting that SolAir provides capacity enhancement ATPL training. The Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL) is the highest level of aircraft pilot certificate, which allows pilots to advance through ranks and fly bigger planes.

According to the pilots, SolAir has not provided such capacity enhancement training for some time and has used the excuse of pilots not being with ATPL to disallow them to progress through to fly bigger planes or upgrade to the international service.

Pilots facilities at the domestic terminal

“Facilities for the pilots and the entire domestic team are appalling. No better air-conditioning, no fridge, no proper rest rooms, not proper furniture.

“A timely action in addressing these little things at the domestic terminal will one way or the other give everybody a sound peace of mind while carrying out their assigned tasks,” say the pilots.

Internal recruitment

Local pilots are asking that management starts practising internal recruitment so as to promote local pilots further up the ladder and give way for recruitment of local pilots, many of whom are roaming the streets of Honiara looking for employment.

“We demand that there’s no further recruitment of expats to the A320 first officers because there are a few qualified local pilots available, and that their upgrade will pave way for the recruitment of local first officers from the dozens of Nadi-trained Solomon Islander student pilots who are roaming the streets of Honiara unemployed.

“We do not buy what CEO Gebers said in the media that the local students who had been trained in Nadi under SIG scholarship are not up to standard. That is just pure demeaning words from the CEO.”

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