Cathay Pacific

Cathay Pacific hits out at pilots’ union after it ups stakes in Hong Kong industrial dispute

International pilots’ federation urges its members to have nothing to do with Cathay plan to outsource Boeing 747 cargo pilot training

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 April, 2017, 12:03pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 April, 2017, 11:21pm

Cathay Pacific, one of Asia’s premium carriers, has hit out at its pilots for attempting to hurt its business after union chiefs upped the stakes in a long-running industrial dispute.

Local and international union bosses have asked cockpit crews of other airlines around the world not to work with the city’s loss-making flagship airline, which wants to outsource some Boeing 747 cargo pilot training.

In a bid to overcome a union-initiated training ban, the airline has lined up Luxembourg-based Cargolux, a major airline freighter specialist. Cathay Pacific said it would have oversight of any deal to ensure “high standards of training and safety”.

Pilots, represented by the Hong Kong Aircrew Officers Association (HKAOA), have been engaged in industrial action since December 2014 over pay and working practices. The union represents two-thirds of Cathay’s 3,300 pilots.

Both sides appear further apart from ending the dispute, which would be a blow for the airline in the long run as it attempts to get better value for money from its employees.

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Cathay Pacific has sought to boost productivity in the workforce. The change is key for the airline’s plan to return to profitability and increase competitiveness after losing HK$575 million last year.

The airline aims to save HK$4 billion in three years, with half of that amount targeted for this year.

“A sustainable, growing airline is in the best interests of all employees, which is why the HKAOA should be working with the company to secure our future,” a Cathay Pacific spokeswoman said. “It is deeply disappointing that the union is attempting to damage our business prospects.”

The union appeared to ignore “the significant challenges and the changing landscape” and the “urgent need” to overhaul the airline, she added. “Cathay Pacific is committed to resolving these issues in an open and constructive manner.”

Chris Beebe, the association’s general secretary, said Cathay’s pilots were ready to assist the management in returning the airline to profit.

“The current dispute predates the company’s downturn and greater cooperation from management in addressing the issues would have resolved it by now. We urge management to expeditiously return to the bargaining table and to deal fairly with the pilots in order to resolve this issue so we can both move forward together,” Beebe said.

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Both sides are expected to head into negotiations at the end of this month.

In a letter, the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Association, which represents 100,000 pilots in more than 100 countries, formally asked its members not to help train Cathay pilots, citing the industrial action and the “lack of progress in negotiations”.

A pilot union source said the action taken was justified as it could not vet the quality and standards of the outsourced training.

“They would rather do that than negotiate in good faith to resolve the industrial dispute with their pilots,” the source said.

In July last year, pilots narrowly rejected a deal to end the dispute, which included a pay rise of at least 2.5 per cent over the next two years, increased hourly and overseas flight payments, new working practices to avoid cockpit fatigue and a ban on industrial action until 2019.

Following the action taken by the union, the airline added it was “prepared for every contingency”, adding that “we will not take a backwards step in delivering our transformation programme ... for the long-term sustainability of the airline.”