A blog update from Mr Tom Burgess, former Senior Vice President of Emirates Group IT.
It is sad to witness the Emirates Group’s deterioration accelerating. The knee jerk and badly managed actions which I feared (but hoped would be avoided had Herr Mueller managed to get an early and firm grip on the organisation) are well underway, and probably unstoppable. I am sure that many of you would have seen a video of Herr Mueller’s interview whilst he was CEO at Aer Lingus and been impressed by his genuine understanding of the importance of people in any organisation. I certainly was. I felt that if anyone could turn Emirates around, then he could. But it was a big ask. He probably has the support of over 95% of Emirates’ staff – essential for someone wanting to make wholesale changes – but nobody would have underestimated the challenges presented within the remaining few per cent. When I struggled to get Patrick Naef to see (what I was convinced was) common sense, I often felt that I was ‘pissing into the wind’. Herr Mueller has probably been facing a hurricane over the past six months.
Patrick Naef’s communication (at the end of last month) to EG-IT staff is another example of corporate incompetence and duplicity. He trivialises events by suggesting that they are just part of a review “on the way we work” and avoids revealing the true size of yet another one of his crusades against loyal members of his department. He promises openness, yet proceeds in secrecy – some staff had already been forced out before the note was sent. His communication is so amateurish it would be seen as laughable, if the topic was not so serious. But I guess everyone would have allowed themselves a wry smile at Patrick Naef’s heart-warming promise to those leaving of his “support during the transition”. This is like being introduced, just as you are about to enter theatre for major surgery, to someone who will be on hand at all times to give you “every support” and then discovering that it is the Grim Reaper.
I’ve read this article on Yahoo Lifestyle yesterday and wondered how far can a pursuit for the profit go? And does doing business these days means only flooding the media with stories which promote your desirable image? Does any CEO or business owner today thinks they can resolve their inner organizational and human resources problems with a few positive image articles on the internet? How long before managers figure out that they cannot beat the internet because it gives an equal power to everyone, including those whose voice managers don’t want to hear?
I am not glad to see that EK managers hadn’t learned much about running the long lasting business. They are still trying to mask the problems with the old “high class lifestyle” public discourse, while their company is falling apart from the inside.
Is it that human conscience is limited with its own mortality so much that managers simply don’t care what will happen after they go, or they simply don’t know how to think in future terms? Maybe combination of both, but, in the meantime, while EK is struggling with its limited managers whose only job is, it seems, to drink Costa coffee in the HQ Costa cafe and to make sure that internet gets its daily dose of “Emirates high class lifestyle” articles, this blog will publish not so glamorous stories about the real lifestyle inside Emirates Airline.
I’ve got this story as a comment on my blog and decided to publish it as an article because I had similar health issues while I was working in EK (without health insurance!). When your employer doesn’t care about your health, I guess you have to take care of yourself and the internet can be a good doctor in the world which recognizes only money for its supreme leader.
“Dragna, I have been following your blog for about 2 years. I’ve resigned from EK in 2013.
I left because I felt we as crew were not treated fairly, there was no Support system we could rely on.
2012 I was diagnosed with a begnine tumor in my uterus, and after pleading with my manager to let me come home for the operation (because they wanted me to have the surgery in Dubai, and if so, I’m pretty sure I would have died,since I had complication during it), I was allowed one month for surgery and recovery.
Obviously it took more than one month, and while recovering I was stressing out, because I kept seeing flights being rostered, and, just because I hadn’t sent my doctor’s letter on time (I was at the hospital) stating that I was still in hospital and could not return.
There was no one in charge to contact directly (they were closed for Eid) and instead of being relaxed and advancing on my recovery, I was freaking out.
It was one of the most horrific experiences of my life.
Later I found out that the reason that tumor had developed was due to hormonal inbalance caused by lack of proper nutriton, rest and stress.
In conversation with at least 7 female crew, i found out that they too had had simililar problems, and had to have surgery.
My last year at Emirates I was A380 FG1, more than once I had to eat standing and while the service was going on. I would grab a bite everytime I enter the galley and chew before I took the next item of food to the customer. With On Demand service, breaks to eat are nearly impossible.
When I came back home for good, I had medical tests done and I was diagnosed with severe anaemia, not to mention that I fell into deep depression which I’m still battling with.
The good times of my EK experience were completely obscured by the many bad things that happened. Sad to say it.
In some of the previous stories on this blog we have seen that EK cabin crew work in inhumane conditions, but this e-mail I’ve got from one former member of EK cabin crew shows how Emirates’ flight attendants don’t even have a meal break on their flights.
This e-mail I am sending you shows how EK has removed the meal break on long flights and how the crew are not able to seat and eat on the flights:
The stations (only) were given a revision in their policies manual which removed the need to soft block seats (therefore depriving the crew from having adequate seating to have their meal break. In April this year the company issued a revision to the outstation policies manual putting the soft block policy back. For 7 years the cabin crew manual still had the soft block policy in place and it was a requirement to have the meal break but of course we were never given it because we didn’t have the seats arranged. The company don’t allow us to eat in the jump seats facing the passengers (95% of Jump seats).
That email shows how management have:
1. Removed a rest policy without informing the crew (and the crew are responsible for adhering to rest policies)
2. Have willfully changed a GCAA controlled document (the manual) without sanction from the regulator.
3. Known that this discrepancy between the two manuals is causing confusion.
4. Known that crew already have difficulty having a meal break due to the configuration of the A380 as most of the jump seats are in the cabin and not the galley and the company prioritising the image concern of crew eating versus allowing them to have a legally required meal break.
5. Introduced two services on a 5:30 flight so that there is no possibility for the crew to even have a meal break.
6. Placed the responsibility on the purser for giving the meal break and in the event that a safety incident occurred (like a crew being so fatigued that they open the cabin door with the escape slide armed or they give the wrong medication to a passenger having a heart attack) the management could always turn to the crew and say: there is a meal break in the manual… Why did you not take the meal break?
The same person has also sent me this e-mail:
I found out that EK did an illegal flight from Dubai to Munich, where the crew and pilots operated the flight and had a rest of 8 hours, when the minimum rest required is 11 hours. but because there was a technical problem on another airplane, they called another set of crew and pilots to do this flight and they gave them less than the minimum rest, and everything goes normal for EK, breaking the rules and even after the accident, they didn’t seem to learn that they were very very lucky for no passenger or crew to die on that one. They are pushing everyone to the limit till another one happens and with fatalities, because they have money and they simply don’t care for human lives.
From EK’s internal cabin crew flight schedule system
Employees of Emirates Airline refer to the company as a “golden cage,” which allegedly exhausts crews beyond their limits and employs punishments when complaints are filed, the administrator of a dedicated whistleblower site has told RT.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the administrator of donotflyemirates.wordpress.com, which collects the accounts of Emirates Airline pilots and publishes their stories online, stressed that the company creates “a culture of fear,” where workers feel unprotected, targeted and trapped.
The site administrator noted that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) does not allow unions, which leaves staff even more vulnerable to abuse.
“If you make a mistake – or even if you don’t make a mistake, if someone blames you for something – you don’t get the chance to defend yourself. You just get the warning, they just fire you.”
“After some time spent in Dubai you feel like everything you have, your whole life is in danger. Because if you get fired, you’re going to lose your house, you’re going to lose your whole life. This is why they are referring to it as a ‘golden cage.’”
The whistleblower site is already banned in the UAE, but the airline wanted to silence it further, as Emirates Airline lawyers reached out to WordPress and urged the blogging platform to take down the whistleblower site, which it refused to do.
“I received a notification from WordPress platform, they notified me that Emirates lawyers tried to take down some content from my blog, and WordPress refused them.”
The administrator, who is a former employee of Emirates Airline, told RT that all the pilots’ stories are received via email. They are all verified before they are published.
The site coordinator also received warning letters while still employed by the airline for having a “negative influence on others” when discussing shifts and workloads.
Earlier, RT spoke to current as well as former Emirates pilots, who confirmed that the company forces them to take heavy workloads and implements “bullying” techniques.
An ex-Emirates employee described the company’s rosters as “brutal,” as the pilots are “expected to switch from day to night… duties without enough rest in between,” adding that he “loses several nights of sleep every month,” is “constantly tired,” and has “no energy to do anything.”
Making matters worse is the fact that the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), charged with regulating aviation safety, has failed to act. Speaking to RT on condition of anonymity, a former Emirates pilot said that the Dubai-based aviation watchdog is not independent from the state, and thus cannot adequately fulfill its duties.
The problem is further exacerbated as the GCAA is controlled by the same people in charge of the airline. Another pilot employed by Emirates revealed that the GCAA is chaired by the CEO of Emirates Airline & Group – Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum.
The airline itself has refused to acknowledge the problem of pilot fatigue when contacted by RT.
The latest response from an Emirates spokesperson claimed that the company meets the required standards.
“Emirates operates in a safe, highly regulated environment and our safety record, which ranks among the top in the industry, demonstrates our rigorous standards. Our crew rosters are built based on GCAA rules, which are in line with recognized international organization standards. Emirates has a Pilot Fatigue Risk Management system that continuously examines flight crew roster patterns and reviews any feedback received from our pilots. Therefore, we cannot substantiate any of the anonymous allegations that have been reported by Russia Today.”
“Emirates actively encourages staff to report on all aspects of safety so that proper analysis and investigations can be conducted. All staff are provided with a direct, easy link with management to report and provide feedback, regardless of its nature.”
However, the Emirates pilot that most recently spoke with RT disagrees, arguing that even though the airline has a Pilot Fatigue Risk Management system, it rarely does anything to address the problem. Instead, it pursues tactics of pilot intimidation to discourage further complaints.
“We file ASRs [Aviation Safety Reports], we highlight problems, and [for that] we can get called by the management, brought into the office… They highlighted a problem, they [could have] made a mistake, whether due to tiredness or just an error…and for that they simply give you a warning letter, this is happening all the time. And what happens is, people are becoming afraid to write ASRs to highlight issues, and it gets hidden,” the pilot said.
The problem is that while exhausting rosters are not illegal, they are “immoral” and “not consistent with sleep patterns,” added the pilot. “When you are flying more than 100 hours a month these issues are cumulative, and they build up. You just start to feel worse and worse and worse… But the airline will tell you ‘our rosters are legal.’ Yes, they are legal rosters. They do have some illegal rostering practices – but they won’t admit to that.”
When describing his personal experience of fatigue during flights, the pilot said that he and his co-pilot had both fallen asleep when approaching the ground, “the time when you need to be most alert.”
Aside from the issue of pilot fatigue, Emirates Airline tries to appear more professional by reusing old employee numbers on new staff, thus making it seem that they have a well-experienced team in charge of the flights, one cabin crew member told RT.
However, the reality is that “the majority of new staff are resigning within six months. Newcomers cannot cope with the workload and fatigue.”
A new blog and a very interesting point of view from a former Senior Vice President of Emirates Group IT Tom Burgess.
I appreciate that introducing a Trade Union into Emirates is probably the last thing on the company’s agenda during these challenging times, but maybe it is not such a foolish idea.
Spotlights are being focussed on the Emirates Group with increasing frequency and intensity. The motives of those holding the lights vary considerably, but it is clear that the standard Emirates response (put on the sunglasses then, if that fails, smash the bulbs) no longer works. Eventually, someone will realise that it is finally time to communicate with those guiding the lights and to have a close and open minded look at what is being illuminated. Once that is done, to enable the company to survive going forward, a total shift of management ethos will be required. Most involved will feel the need to admit that “we got it wrong” will be the toughest challenge, but far greater than that will be how to open up channels of communication with those who really matter – the staff. Those staff who, for their entire careers in Emirates, have sensibly concluded that you only ever tell your manager what s/he wants to hear. Anything else is, at best, career limiting, but more likely career terminating. Historically, managers in Emirates normally have only asked staff for their opinions to check their loyalty and compliance – a test rather than a quest. Assertions of “you can trust us now” will merely be seen as a trap. Maybe an intermediary such as a Trade Union would be able to help?
During my lifetime I have gone round a few circles with my views on Trade Unions. In the UK in the 1960’s they were often ridiculed, seemingly looking for the slightest excuse to down tools. By the early 1970’s many people thought they had too much power and by the end of that decade pretty well everyone, including some members of Trade Unions, knew they had too much power. Enter Margaret Thatcher. Whilst most people recognised the need for, and applauded the result of, her strategy, they were dismayed by her methods (and the resulting social impact) and then appalled as she subsequently took steps (which thankfully failed) to ban Trade Unions in some arenas. For quite some time afterwards, the UK employment environment seemed to provide a good model for everyone involved – staff enjoyed protection, but companies were allowed to run their businesses and communication within all industries improved dramatically. However, many feel that the balance has been tipping in recent times, with workers’ protection progressively diminishing.
My own experiences with Trade Unions were mixed. I managed in all sorts of environments – non-union (by employee choice), mixed union/non-union and total union – and this gave me forever changing perspectives. As a manager, I finally concluded that, broadly, Unions were a waste of time. But this only applied in organisations where management and the HR department actually did the jobs that they were paid to do. Sadly, such organisations are becoming rare and Emirates is light years away from such a position. If a company has a weak HR function, then managers will be tempted to run riot and the company will need a Trade Union to function effectively.
When I worked in the oil industry the production side (refineries, etc.) was heavily unionised but less so the ‘white collar’ environment. The company was properly managed and the ideals of staff involvement, communication, development, retention and motivation were embedded in everyday life, not just words on recruitment material. Naturally the production side of the business enjoyed the benefits of that approach as much as the white collar areas did, but the physical environment did not generally lend itself to open discussion. Add into the mix the need for a huge focus on safety, it was imperative that a comprehensive and forceful voice could be presented to management regarding the serious issues of the day. Regardless of how professional and experienced a manager is, balancing the need to reduce costs with the imperative of maintaining safety is never going to be easy. In an environment where the impact of an operational accident is significant, there comes a time when that challenge becomes potentially impossible. So, in that industry, an independent voice and channel (via a Trade Union) for operational staff was essential. A major incident at an oil refinery can be on the same scale as an aviation disaster.
As managers, there are times when we need to be ‘saved from ourselves’. My saviours were often colleagues in HR departments and I was privileged to have worked with some excellent people over the years. (This includes two HRM’s in Emirates, though sadly both left the company some time ago). One of my favourite HR Directors used to say “Yes, I can see what you are trying to achieve . . .” and then came the word “but”! I think senior managers in Emirates would have benefitted from that word “but” many times over the years. However, this will not happen all the time Emirates HR department is seen (both by the company and by itself) solely as an administrative support function.
I cannot say that I was ever ‘saved’ by a Trade Union representative. My HR colleagues were quite frankly streets ahead of them when it came to people issues. But I did value Union counsel when seeking staff views. I had worked in open management cultures for many years, where everyone was comfortable with saying what they thought without fear of incrimination. But following company mergers, when I found myself leading teams who had previously been managed more in the Emirates style (though nowhere near as extreme), it would have been absurd to expect everyone to open up and trust me from day one. Trust takes a long time to achieve and probably becomes permanently unachievable if you ever say “you can trust me”. But staff did (rightly) trust their Union representative, so that was a useful route to find out what staff really thought about matters. And naturally, as trust was established between managers and Union representatives, that trust permeated in all directions, to the benefit of everyone involved.
Until Emirates HR department becomes functional, there is huge gap to fill if management, indeed the company, is going to be saved from itself. Here are a few examples where truly independent involvement would have helped:
The overwhelming consensus is that the views expressed in the last staff survey were extremely bad, but nobody really knows how bad they were. Eventually, a very brief communication was issued which basically revealed nothing. Does anyone believe that any Trade Union would let a company get away with that? When a survey is commissioned staff will participate, tell the truth and rightly expect to be given the results. How will Emirates, in the future, obtain information that can only be obtained by a comprehensive staff survey? Who will bother? Only those who fear that non completion will result in a penalty will complete it. And if they have concluded that the survey is not confidential, they will not relay any concerns they have. A Trade Union could have saved Emirates from itself on this one. No matter how bad the results were, the impact from publishing them would have not been as negative as it has been by burying the exercise.
The ‘Truth about Emirates Airline Management’ blog has been running for what seems like an eternity. Those who initially asserted ‘ignore it, it will soon go away’ are looking rather silly now. With the existence of a Trade Union, that blog would never have been initiated. If a Trade Union were now to be introduced in Emirates, that blog would soon be taken down. With a Trade Union in place, there would never have been the need to record a meeting, as no manager would risk such behaviour if they had to account to a Trade Union. Had there been an issue between the company and an employee, a Union would have helped an appropriate and amicable way forward to be reached. Had a genuine impasse been reached regarding End of Service benefits, a Union would have assisted with a solution. The need for the ‘truth’ blog should never have arisen but, if the issues that prompted it had somehow not been picked up, a Union would have insisted that action be taken to have the blog removed. It is not only the Emirates Group that is being exposed and made a laughing stock by the ‘truth’ blog, staff members are impacted too. People want to be proud of the company they work for, not ashamed of it. And there must be many in Emirates who are concerned that they too may get a mention – though this is probably a real benefit of the blog as managers who bully will have certainly backed off in response to this particular spotlight. A Union would be able to force the advice (that most people worked out over a year ago) onto Emirates management – stop throwing bricks, go and talk to the lady with the lamp!
Major tragic events in the aviation industry in the last few years have drawn the travelling public to aviation forums and many will be alarmed at the increasing swell of concern about the fitness of flight deck crew to operate safely. It is too easy to make arguments at the ends of the scale – ‘lazy, overpaid prima donnas’ through to ‘so tired I cannot keep awake’. The same goes for the ‘over regulated’/ ‘under regulated’ arguments as well as the ‘ruthless profiteers’ versus the ‘hopelessly inefficient, but bailed out by government’ descriptions of airlines. The travelling public can only feel confident about what is a very complex equation, if they are certain that the overall framework is comprehensive and constructed with firm and independent parts. The public want to have confidence that an airline encourages and reacts to staff (at all levels) concerns, has an alternate and confidential route (such as via a Trade Union) for such communication (should individuals prefer) and is regulated by a genuinely independent official agency. A cynic can always question the competence and the true independence of all those involved, but what I have just described is a pretty robust and balanced framework. But take away the Trade Union and the structure loses its rigidity. Regardless if it is true or not, what travellers are deducing from the aviation forums at the moment is that the airlines and the regulator in the Middle East are working hand in hand and that staff views, if heard at all, are ignored. One picture currently being presented is that if a member of Emirates flight deck crew has a concern about safety, then their best chance of being listened to would be to contact either a German Trade Union or a Russian news channel. Would it not be better if s/he could talk to a Trade Union representing staff in Emirates? I am sure if that option were to be available, the public would feel more confident about flying with Emirates.
I do recognise that just to mention the words ‘Trade Union’ in Emirates could lead to serious consequences, so maybe ‘Staff Association’ would be more palatable. It would require a sea change in management attitude, but anyone who believes that a sea change in management attitude is not required in Emirates is a fool. Membership could be optional, though most companies see the benefit of a strong Union or Association, so actively encourage people to join. Individuals could then join and see if it works for them.
And if they don’t like it, they can leave!!
It’s so sad that Emirates Airline managers were warned in more than a year and a half ago that public will soon know about the bad treatment of their employees and the violation of labour rights and that their image and brand will be ruined. They’ve got that advice as a threat when they should have got it as an advice in a good will and do everything to improve working conditions.