Hong Kong passengers could have their summer holiday flights disrupted after protracted pay talks between Cathay Pacific and its pilots broke down.
The Hong Kong Aircrew Officers' Association says cockpit crew may work to rule, known as contract compliance, during the peak travel period in July unless the bitter stalemate is resolved. The union declared an impasse and called for mediation on Friday after successive rounds of pay talks failed.
If mediation fails, pilots are entitled to work to rule under the terms of its "good faith bargaining framework agreement" with bosses, union sources say.
Cathay insisted yesterday it was "committed" to reaching a deal on pay and livelihood issues under discussion since last year, when a previous three-year deal expired. A management source also pointed out that the airline had managed to operate normally during previous work-to-rule protests by pilots.
The union's general secretary, Chris Beebe, said pilots were "frustrated and increasingly impatient" at the lack of progress and said contract compliance could not be ruled out.
"Pilots last had an agreement for pay increases in 2010 and that covered through to 2013. For one year now we've been in negotiations hoping to get the pilots a pay rise and some improvements in their quality of life," he said.
"There is quite a bit of frustration. … The negotiations have proceeded at a glacial pace."
A source close to the talks said any decision to work to rule was "some distance down the line", but that the impasse made industrial action more likely.
Asked whether a work-to-rule move was likely, Beebe said: "I can't rule it out as a possibility. Certainly pilots have the right to call for contract compliance, but right now what we must do is adhere to the … bargaining framework. We are hopeful that the company will become more reasonable. … Pilots are frustrated and increasingly impatient."
The union is also concerned about a proposal to reduce the number of pilots on some long-haul routes from Europe from four to three. "We are concerned about the amount of fatigue pilots are subjected to if they don't have adequate crewing," Beebe said. "It is not only an industrial issue but a safety issue."
The company's spokeswoman said the smaller crews were "in line with the standard practice of other carriers" and would "involve only a small number of flights".
Pilots' frustration has intensified after Cathay reached a pay agreement with cabin crew and other staff earlier this year.
Cathay is understood to have had a pay offer of about 4 per cent rejected by the pilots. In a statement, it said four week-long negotiating sessions had taken place since November, covering pay, rostering, allowances, housing and basing. It said more talks were scheduled.
"It is the company's expectation that we will continue negotiations," Cathay said. "Cathay Pacific has shown throughout this process that it is fully committed to achieving agreement.
"An opportunity for mediation is part of an agreed framework and the parties have agreed that no action will be taken whilst this process is ongoing."
The two sides now have four weeks to agree on the identities of the mediators, after which three days of mediation will take place.