Dragonair pilots eye work to rule
Holiday flights into and out of Hong Kong could face disruption this summer as Dragonair pilots consider a work-to-rule over what they claim is the airline's discriminatory treatment of its locally recruited cockpit crew.
The 375-member Dragonair Pilots Association (DPA) will vote on June 27 whether to impose contract compliance against Hong Kong's second-biggest airline in their dispute over the compensation gap between expatriate pilots and locally hired ones, who are predominantly Hong Kong Chinese.
The vote could trigger a work-to-rule, which falls short of industrial action but in which cockpit crew would work to the letter of their contracts and refuse additional duties. The DPA represents 90 per cent of the airline's pilots.
The move could come at the start of the busy summer travel season. Dragonair, which serves such popular destinations as Hanoi, Kathmandu, Phuket and about 20 mainland cities, carried, along with its sister airline Cathay Pacific, 2.5 million passengers last July.
About one in four of Dragonair's pilots is locally hired, and they have historically received less generous compensation packages than their expatriate colleagues, largely because of housing and education allowances that can account for about 50 per cent of total expatriate packages.
The DPA has long argued that after a certain period - about seven years or when they reach the rank of captain - locally hired pilots should receive an amount equal to the wages and allowances of expatriates.
Dragonair introduced at the start of this year a new contract for all new recruits irrespective of whether they are expatriates or locally hired. Any serving locally hired crew who want to can switch to the new contract.
The contract offers housing and education allowances as part of a total package that is equal for all new hires, but is about 40 per cent lower than the amount given to a serving expatriate pilot, according to the union.
Locally hired pilots were given two months to decide whether to switch contracts, but the DPA says 85 per cent of those eligible have not signed, even though it would give them allowances worth the equivalent of HK$4,500 to HK$8,000 a month extra depending on their ranks.
'We want an equal package for equal work,' said Melanie Bell, the union's general secretary. 'We want a finite period of payback time for Hong Kong Chinese pilots. When they reach the rank of captain they should be on full pay, including all the allowances.'
Bell said Dragonair had refused to negotiate over the new contract.
'We are disappointed at the [airline's] response,' she said. 'We want them to come to the table and negotiate with us in good faith.'
The DPA is supported by the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions. Organising secretary Wong Yu-loy said Hong Kong had a 'special sentiment' for Dragonair.
'It is a local company and the dragon symbol is very Chinese,' Wong said. 'So it is unimaginable that the company should discriminate against local Chinese.'
Dragonair declined to grant an interview about the issue but issued a series of written statements.
'Dragonair is an equal-opportunity employer in strict compliance with anti-discrimination regulations and we are committed to treating all staff fairly,' the airline said. 'All local pilots are treated exactly the same as expatriate pilots in terms of salary, career progression and promotion opportunities.'
Dragonair said the housing and education benefits were needed to attract overseas recruits because of a shortage of job candidates in Hong Kong. 'It is a well-established and common industry practice not only in Hong Kong but around the world,' it said.
The airline says it has sought to increase the local candidate pool by offering training to Hong Kong permanent residents.
Asked about the prospect of pilots declaring a work-to-rule at the start of the summer holiday season, the airline said it would do 'whatever it can ... to ensure its passengers and operations remain unaffected'.
When they reach the rank of captain they should be on full pay, including all the allowances
of serving Dragonair pilots who are eligible to switch to the new contract have made the move so far, the airline says