Cathay dispute heads for showdown

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 January, 2011, 12:00am

A pay dispute between Cathay Pacific flight attendants and management is headed for a showdown today with talks taking place under the threat of a possible work-to-rule action.

At a special meeting yesterday, cabin crew workers voted to empower the Flight Attendants' Union to order a work-to-rule at any time if the airline refuses to reopen salary negotiation at today's meeting.

The Travel Industry Council estimated the industrial action, which could extend into next month's peak Lunar New Year travel season, would be a minor, but widespread, inconvenience to passengers.

Dora Lai Yuk-sin, the union's chairwoman, said workers participating in a work-to-rule action would follow all the procedures demanded under company policies - such as security checks and preparations needed for arriving and departing flights - but do nothing beyond what was required.

'In that case, planes will be very likely delayed, since the cabin crew now work flat-out to shorten the time for such works,' Lai said.

All 6,000 members would participate in the action, with a date yet to be decided, pending the outcome of today's meeting.

'We are not expecting a total concession from the company ... we think they should at least show a positive attitude concerning our proposal,' Lai said.

At dispute was the percentage of the pay raise. The airline has offered a net increase of 4.5 per cent, but the union wants a 4.5 per cent rise on top of the annual increment.

Under the airline's proposal, a flight attendant who earned HK$10,000 a month last year would get HK$10,350 this year in recognition of her years of experience; that would be increased to HK$10,450 with the pay rise. According to the union's demand, the total pay raise, including the annual increment, should be about 8 per cent.

Quince Chong Wai-yan, Cathay Pacific's corporate affairs director, said: 'Considering the current economic and labour market conditions, the pay increase offered to them is highly competitive and reasonable.'

She said workers would also receive year-end bonuses amounting to one month's salary on top of a profit share of at least three weeks' salary in March. That followed an advance profit share of two weeks' salary in August last year, she said.

Chong said the company was disappointed at the union's threat to take industrial action again, thus 'unnecessarily worrying thousands of Hong Kong people who have booked their holidays'.

In December, Cathay pilots threatened a work-to-rule action that might have disrupted Christmas travel, but the company and the pilots reached an accord, with the airline offering cockpit crews inflation-busting pay rises of up to 12.3 per cent.

Chong said the airline was confident its flight attendants would continue to carry out their duties professionally and responsibly, and that services would not be affected.

Although not guaranteeing that holidaymakers' plans would not be affected, she said the carrier 'always has policies to ensure flights operate normally'.

The union denied using the public interest as a bargaining chip and said the airline should share its forecast profit of HK$12.5 billion with workers.

'Our current demand of negotiating with the management is a basic and reasonable one,' Lai said. 'Cathay Pacific has its corporate responsibility. If its attitude is negative or unco-operative, the union is forced to take industrial action. The airline should shoulder its responsibilities to workers and the public.'

Travel Industry Council chairman Michael Wu Siu-ieng said many individual and package tour travellers could be affected. 'The airline accounts for at least 30 per cent of Hong Kong's flights. No one can escape if there is an industrial action,' Wu said. 'But we expect the impact would not be profound ... We believe only some flights will be delayed a bit in the worst scenario.'