Ground handler dnata rehires half of previously laid-off staff; other players beefing up resources

SINGAPORE – More than half the staff who were retrenched by ground handler dnata in August last year have been rehired, in a sign that the aviation sector is gearing up for take-off again after being grounded by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Other players in the industry, from ground handling firm Sats to national carrier Singapore Airlines (SIA), are also beefing up resources for the turnaround.

The moves come on the back of an increasing number of travellers and flights at Changi Airport, as well as the continued strength of the cargo business, said Mr Musdalifa Abdullah, managing director of dnata Singapore.

He told The Straits Times that it is looking to rehire even more former employees as it looks to fill a number of vacancies across its operations.

The firm declined to disclose figures but affected workers told ST last year that more than 100 employees had been laid off.

Mr Musdalifa also said that dnata is recalling some of the staff it had temporarily redeployed to other organisations, such as SingPost, following the plunge in air travel last year.

“The redeployment opportunities were critical in our efforts to retain as much of our local, skilled workforce as possible,” he noted.

The number of travellers going through Changi Airport is expected to gradually climb in the coming months, following the announcement of 13 Vaccinated Travel Lanes (VTLs) to let inoculated passengers enter without quarantine.

The lanes with 10 countries, including Britain and the United States, have already started. The remaining three lanes, for travellers from South Korea, Australia and Switzerland, will start later this month.

About 220,000 people passed through the airport in September, a 143 per cent increase from the year before. But this figure is just 4.02 per cent of the 5.47 million passenger movements registered in September 2019.

Terminals 2 and 4 at the airport remain closed.

A Changi Airport Group spokesman said that as travel picks up gradually, its partners will adjust their manpower requirements accordingly.

SIA said almost all its staff who were in external employment are back to working full-time with the company.

“In recent months, the number of active cabin crew and pilots, and their average number of flying hours, have been increasing in tandem with the calibrated growth in the SIA Group’s passenger capacity,” a spokesman said.

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On hiring plans, the carrier did not provide specific details but said it will continue to invest to ensure that it can emerge stronger as international travel recovers.

This includes setting up a function on its platforms to let customers travelling from Singapore to selected cities validate their digital health certificates easily.

SIA has resumed its course-by-course meal service for all flights since Nov 15.

Budget airline Jetstar Asia, which is currently operating six planes, said it will continue to reactivate more crew as it boosts flight frequencies amid developments such as the upcoming VTL flights from Australia to Singapore.

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Ms Lilian Tan, Sats chief human capital officer, said the company has been working with government agencies like e2i and Workforce Singapore to ramp up targeted recruitment early so that it can train new employees ahead of the recovery.

She added that the firm sought to retain staff during the pandemic, with some deployed to other places, such as Sats’ subsidiary Country Foods and Marina Bay Cruise Centre.

Sats has also invested in training and technology as it prepares for clear blue skies again. For example, it has tapped kitchen automation and food technology to produce better food in larger quantities and at lower cost.

“Employees who are redeployed to their original roles are going through refresher training and are ready to work with the new technology developed to help them cope with managing the increased volume,” said Ms Tan.

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