A staff training programme between the Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Company, or HAECO, and its mainland subsidiary has been suspended because of a dispute over the way trainees are allegedly treated.
The decision by Taikoo (Xiamen) Aircraft Engineering Company to temporarily halt the programme and send 140 of its aircraft maintenance trainees back to Xiamen in Fujian comes after a meeting to try to resolve the dispute failed to materialise.
Aircraft maintenance is highly specialised and labour-intensive work requiring skilled and experienced technicians to ensure passenger and cargo planes are in good working order. Business at HAECO suffered as airlines cut costs and reduced the number of planes in the air as fewer people chose to fly in the global downturn.
The dispute revolves around accusations that the trainees were being exploited as cheap labour by HAECO.
A meeting between the management of the Xiamen subsidiary, or TAECO, and the trainees to better understand the situation was scheduled for 2pm yesterday at the airport. But the trainees insisted that a representative of the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions join them at the meeting, a request that was rejected by TAECO.
The trainees will return to Xiamen, where TAECO's management hopes to meet them.
Labour chief Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said the case involves many different government bureaus, including the immigration department, but said officials would try to see how the matter could be resolved. The trainees want help from the Labour Department.
Lawmaker Ip Wai-ming, a representative of the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, said he hoped the government could help resolve the case.
HAECO said the trainees received training from its qualified technicians but that this meant more work for the technicians. As a result, some adjustments were made to the technicians' work roster, which affected the training schedule.
Some media reports revealed that the trainees were contracted to receive 286 hours of training at HAECO each month for two years. Each trainee would be paid HK$3,932.50 a month and HK$14 for every hour of overtime.
The contract did not specify the maximum hours of work each day although some trainees complained that they worked 10 hours instead of the allotted eight hours a day.
HAECO said the trainees received annual leave, statutory holidays and compensation leave.
TAECO, which started the training programme in 1993, is voluntary.
HAECO, majority owned by Swire Pacific, controls 56.55 per cent of TAECO. HAECO mainly operates heavy airframe maintenance facilities at the airport.