A telecom union yesterday began a court battle against Pacific Century CyberWorks-owned Hongkong Telecom International, alleging workers' negotiation rights had been breached a decade ago. It is believed to be the first time a union has taken a company to court over such rights. The Court of First Instance heard Hongkong Telecom had failed to consult the Cable and Wireless Staff Association before dismissals in 1991 in which a total of 1,000 people lost their jobs. This was despite a 1988 agreement between the parties which the union said guaranteed a mechanism for negotiation on salaries and employment conditions, the court heard. The union is seeking a declaration the agreement is valid and legally binding on the defendant, Hongkong Telecom International. Barrister Robert Tang, SC, for the staff association, said that when the deal was made both parties had intended to make it legally enforceable. The union considered the agreement still valid because no notice to terminate it had been filed by either side, he said. Mr Tang said the change in ownership of the company did not affect the agreement. The merger between Pacific Century CyberWorks and Cable & Wireless HKT - one of Asia's biggest business deals - took place last year. The union is seeking a declaration that the dismissal of association members breached the agreement. It also claims that under the 1988 deal the defendant cannot amend the rates of basic pay or existing pay scales without its agreement. Outside court, association chairman Cheung Pak-chi said the case could affect the negotiation rights of all employees in Hong Kong. The civil case continues before High Court Deputy Judge Gerard Muttrie.