Cathay Pacific's cabin crew called off the threat of industrial action yesterday after striking a deal on working arrangements.
A marathon meeting between representatives from the airline, the Cathay Pacific Flight Attendants Union and the Labour Department began at 11am on Wednesday and finally ended at 1pm yesterday.
The talks were adjourned for a few hours yesterday morning, when it was far from certain a deal would be struck. Holding back tears, union chairwoman Dora Lai Yuk-sim said during the break that the airline would be given until noon to respond to the flight attendants' demands.
If no agreement was reached, the union would go ahead with a work-to-rule today, which would be escalated to a strike on New Year's Eve. But at a brief meeting after the deadline, the two sides struck a deal.
"We see significant progress in the agreement we signed, so industrial action is not a consideration any more. I am happy about this outcome," Lai said.
The union decided not to pursue a pay rise above the 2 per cent it was offered, having originally asked for a 5 per cent increase for its 6,000 members. But it won improvements for staff working on "red-eye flights" that require cabin crew to work overnight with only about an hour between shifts. The union has called the practice "inhuman".
Cathay operates three such flights a day. Lai said the airline agreed that cabin crew can take a night's rest in Singapore - one of the three destinations - before they fly back to Hong Kong.
On the other two flights, arrangements will be changed to allow crew to rest while onboard. They will not spend the night at their destinations.
"Let's say we can spend a night at Singapore, we will get a HK$500 outport allowance. That's much more than the HK$200 we get from the 2 per cent pay rise," Lai said, explaining why the union did not pursue a higher pay rise.
The union also got a concession on a cross-base flying scheme, in which Cathay proposed that staff posted overseas can fly between more of its bases than at present. The union wanted to scrap the proposal, fearing local crew would be replaced.
Both sides agreed that though the scheme would still go ahead next month, crews based outside Hong Kong will not exceed 15 per cent of Cathay's total cabin crew staff. And the number of non- local crew on flights will not exceed half of the total.
This part of the agreement will be reviewed after two years.
Lastly, Lai said the airline agreed to review general flight patterns so that crews get more rest and time at outports.
Cathay's general manager of cabin crew, Liza Ng, said she was pleased with the outcome. "It doesn't matter how long the meeting was, the important thing is that both sides are satisfied with the result," she said.
The result of the meeting echoed what Cathay's chief executive John Slosar said in an interview with the Post on Monday.
"If you go back and look at the past, things can normally get resolved quickly," he said.