Cathay Pacific passengers should brace for possible industrial action after the association representing cockpit crew stepped up its preparations for a work-to-rule protest.
The Hong Kong Aircrew Officers Association recently sent a letter to its 1,900 members, telling them what they should do and be aware of in the event of a work-to-rule, or contract compliance, sources close to the union say.
"Basically all the newsletter says is follow your contract, no more, no less. Contract compliance is in essence the withdrawal of goodwill, something that the company has been relying on for far too long without acknowledging it," a source said.
In September last year, about 90 per cent of the association's members voted for a motion that authorised it to press ahead with industrial action if the airline did not give a satisfactory reply to the association's undisclosed pay rise demands. But the association decided against the action and started talks with the airline around the end of last year.
The airline has a total of about 2,900 pilots.
General secretary Chris Beebe said the union would continue to engage in discussions with the airline and that no conclusion had been reached.
"It is our job to make sure that pilots have some sort of stability in life," he said, adding that Cathay had not set a deadline on the talks.
A source close to the negotiations said the airline's offer was "not within spitting distance" of what the association was demanding.
But the airline's exact offer and the association's demands remain unclear as both sides have agreed on confidentiality.
A work-to-rule means that the pilots would work according to what their contract requires. For example, pilots would refuse to work on rostered days off.
A source said that many pilots, especially the junior ones, were being called in on days off two or three times a month, disturbing their time with friends and family.
Another source said the impact of a work-to-rule on passengers would be "significant", especially in unexpected situations such as a typhoon, because Cathay did not have enough pilots on standby.
Flight cancellations and delays could be expected if the actions eventually took place, the source said.
An airline spokesman said that the negotiations were continuing.
"Both parties have also agreed that no action will be taken whilst this process is ongoing. Cathay Pacific has complied with, and will continue to comply with, the obligations of confidentiality during the negotiating process as agreed to in the 'good faith bargaining framework agreement'," he said.
The association threatened work-to-rule action in 2010, but decided not to go ahead with it when a 12.3 per cent raise was offered over three years.
The last work-to-rule, in 2001, led to the sacking of 49 pilots in one day.