Friday, July 3, 2009

Are our Friendly Skies ... Safe?

UPDATE: ST Aerospace President Tay Kok Khiang has responded to my query on the legitmacy of the claims. Here is his response (emphasis are mine):

Thank you for your interest and feedback.

You are assured that the allegations being made by the wfaa are untrue. We have the highest regard for safety of our products and would notcompromise that. Our customers are also fully aware of our exacting qualitystandards and are with us.

Have a good day.

In lieu of the tragic Air France and Yemeni air crashes, aircraft safety is very much in the foreground of our thoughts as we embark on holidays or send love ones of at the terminal.

When I spoke of my concerns to a relative that was flying off to London, she confidently replied that if iwas scared I should just pay more and fly SQ. I felt reassured then, but now I am not so sure.

In an age of globalisation, the only thing that spreads across national borders faster than information and goods, is greed and incompetence.

I saw the article attached below in the 3in1kopitiam Forum and needless to say i was dissappointed. In a nut shell, aircraft mechanics, yes the ones supposed to do the safety checks, were being 'imported' into the US by companies that are subsidiaries or direct entities of ST Aerospace, a company of ST Engineering. And in order to cut costs and maximize margins, their qualifications, such as their ability to read the english instruction manuals, are being overstated.

I am not well informed enough to known the level of direct involvement of ST Aerospace in this hiring policy, but I do think they have a responsibility to respond and clarify their position.

I will be sending this post to the ST Engg management, Our Labour Chief and to The Press

Aircraft repair jobs sold to foreign workers, resumes not important
02:12 PM CDT on Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A News 8 investigation found that hundreds of aircraft mechanics have been brought into the United States to work at aircraft repair facilities.

Insiders say the companies that are importing the mechanics are so eager to save money, they’re overstating their qualifications. The result may be a threat to safety, abetted by lax enforcement of immigration law.

At daybreak any morning at San Antonio Aerospace, hundreds of workers amble through the gates for the day shift. They repair big jets like Airbuses, Boeing 757s and MD-11s. But, despite the fact that it's a huge facility in the middle of the San Antonio International Airport, a large number of the mechanics are only temporary workers from foreign countries.

News 8 found they’re from Mexico, the Philippines and Chile, among other places. They have been brought specifically to the United States to work for San Antonio Aerospace (SAA). News 8 followed a special bus San Antonio Aerospace, used to pick up foreign workers every morning. Workers riding on the bus were from the Philippines. The workers, who wouldn’t say how much money they make, are part of a stream of imported mechanics brought to this country at cut-rate wages, according to several sources familiar with the business.

Jada Williams used to work for one of the contracting companies, Aircraft Workers Worldwide (AWW), based in Daphne, Alabama. AWW supplied workers for two facilities, Mobile Aerospace Engineering (MAE) in Mobile, Alabama and San Antonio Aerospace, which are both controlled by ST Aerospace. San Antonio Aerospace is a division of ST Aerospace, the largest aircraft repair company in world.

"They’ve employed over 200 since I left,” said Williams, who said she was unfairly fired by the contractor last fall. "And I know we had over a hundred when I was in there, just in Mobile.”
She said in San Antonio, AWW supplied 600 workers. The workers stay in the United States and come from various countries because of the different kinds of visas available in those places.

San Antonio Aerospace uses several contracting companies to supply it with workers. It can be a high-profit business for the contractors. They can make $3 to $12 an hour for every worker hired by SAA, contractors say.

The drive for profits is so big, Williams and other insiders said, that the contractors often falsify the qualifications of the imports.

"We had two,” she said. “One of them was a female. She was about 16. It was a brother and a sister. One guy was a grocery bagger, one was a security guard in Puerto Rico. Their ages were between 18 and 22.”

Their ages are important because it takes years of experience or schooling to learn how to repair a big jet, experience they couldn’t have had.

"There had been padded resumes at SAA before,” said an administrator at another contractor. “That’s why another contract house was kicked out (of SAA).”

One former SAA mechanic, who spent years learning his trade before being laid off, said foreign workers got their training on the job from the Americans they worked with.

"The more experienced mechanics, we would get paired up with either one or two of these guys,” he says. “And they would watch us for a month or so. And that’s how they would get their training.”

Williams is suing her former boss, Daniel Harding, for unlawful termination and racial discrimination. She has a computer full of company documents that were acquired accidentally when AWW got new computers for its office and gave her an old one. Spreadsheets, resumes and payrolls revealed many company practices, from interviews, to trips to the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City for visas, charts marked the progress of Mexican workers to the United States. Documents also showed workers were charged $3,500 each by AWW to get into the United States.

Williams also has an e-mail trail from AWW president Harding to Moh Loong Loh, the President of San Antonio Aerospace. He described one candidate as having “ 25 percent English skills.” Workers need English to communicate with their supervisors and to read repair manuals, so this is a key safety issue. American SAA workers said many imports cannot speak English at all.

In another e-mail, Harding described a group of imported workers from Mexico, just like a commodity.
“I hope to be able to bring increments no larger than ten at a time,” he wrote to Loh.
While this was happening, SAA former wokers said they got laid off.

WFAA-TV The companies involved may face serious questions, said a former judge.
“I feel like we are being betrayed in our own country,” said one who was terminated. “And I feel it is not right.”

“These big layoffs of 20 to 30 people would go out,” said the contract administrator. “The very next Monday, 30 or 40 [imports] would be coming in.”

Williams said in Mobile the numbers were even bigger. She said she picked up a group of 60 people from Puerto Rico at Mobile Regional Airport last February. Since Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, its residents are U.S citizens. For the contractors, this is a bonus because they can pay the Puerto Ricans low wages without having to deal with foreign immigration requirements.
When the FAA came to inspect San Antonio Aerospace, the company got a one-hour warning, said a former employee.
“And a lot of guys who were not able to read English, they would hide those guys or send them home for the evening," the former employee said.

News 8 submitted written questions to both SAA in San Antonio and MAE in Mobile. The questions asked how many foreign workers they employ and what they are paid. The response from each said “we are an equal opportunity employer.” Another question was whether AWW is owned by ST Aerospace. The terse answer was no, “AWW is an independent contractor.”
AWW did not respond to questions. An attorney retained by the company and Daniel Hardin said “Mr. Hardin is a responsible businessman who has greatly benefitted his community and his country.”

In Dallas, former judge David Finn, now in private practice, told News 8 that all the companies involved may face serious questions.

“Federal prosecutors would probably look at making false statements, material false statements," he said. "That’s a federal offense, a felony ... Mail fraud, wire fraud, there are any number of statues on the books that would apply to a situation like that.”

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