The government will not stand by and allow the Singapore Airlines pilots' union to 'do Singapore in'. It will not allow them to 'risk' the country's position as an air hub. These were pretty strong and clear statements from the top, showing that the might of the government was about to fall on the union - and it quickly did. Last week, the government, which owns a majority stake in SIA, announced a plan to amend the Trade Unions Act to enable trade union executive committees to negotiate and commit to collective agreements, without having to seek ratification from their members. The pilots' union is the only one affected by this change. Had the pilots walked out on strike, or started a work-to-rule or a go-slow? No. But the Air Line Pilots Association of Singapore (Alpa-S) had just ousted its 22-member executive committee, criticising them for having given in too easily to management on wage cuts and layoffs at the height of the Sars crisis. This was a clear sign that upcoming negotiations for the pilots' collective agreement, due for renewal in March, would be difficult - if not confrontational - and the government justified its decision by saying that 'we cannot allow confrontational industrial relations to add to the problems of SIA, Changi Airport and our travel industry. It will put jobs and Singapore's economy at risk'. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. When the pilots' union agreed to wage cuts and unpaid leave in June, SIA was reeling from the twin impacts of the Iraq war and Sars, and had just posted its first-ever quarterly loss. At the time, the future was still uncertain and the airline needed to cut costs. However, the quickness of the economic rebound surprised most people, and SIA posted an amazing profit of S$306 million (HK$1.3 billion) in its second quarter, pleasing investors, but prompting resentment among staff. Around the world, pilot unions often throw their weight around, most recently in Austria, where pilots have staged repeated walkouts in protest at planned austerity measures. The Alpha-S decision may not look like a revolutionary move, but it was seen as a step on the slippery slope towards industrial action. The argument is that the city state can ill-afford strikes at a time when the government is pushing through labour reforms in the hope of making its workforce more competitive. It will take a brave and smart man to lead the union in the upcoming collective agreement negotiations, as the government will be watching closely. This latest tightening of labour laws may have poured cold water over hot tempers, but it will not, per se, change the resolve of the union. Two men have risen to the challenge and thrown their hats in the ring for the now open position of union president. The battle could be ugly; one of the candidates is already the victim of what he calls a smear campaign, with rumours that he is a government plant because he had not previously indicated an interest in the job. Meanwhile, SIA management has not evaded the wrath of the government, either. It has been told to get its act together, starting with better human-resource management.