Companies are using the lack of legislation in Hong Kong to jettison mature members of locally hired cabin crews Airlines are taking advantage of Hong Kong's lack of age discrimination laws to force flight attendants hired locally to retire up to 30 years earlier than their overseas colleagues. Japan Airlines, which has about 250 Hong Kong-based staff members, makes flight attendants retire as early as 35, while Tokyo-based staff retire at 65. At Cathay Pacific, Dragonair and British Airways, cabin crew hired in Hong Kong must retire at 45. The Equal Opportunities Commission admitted it was powerless to stop the practice or to act on similar complaints because there are no laws in Hong Kong to prevent blatant acts of age discrimination. 'If we get a complaint regarding age discrimination at the EOC, there is nothing we can do. We just take down the inquiry or complaint and refer it to the relevant government department,' a commission spokesman said. Japan Airlines (JAL) insisted it was not acting unethically by making Hong Kong staff retire earlier than cabin crew staff hired overseas because 'there is no labour ordinance [in Hong Kong] that mentions at which age employees should be retired'. 'This internal policy is not in violation of any local labour ordinance,' a JAL spokesman said. In Japan, the mandatory retirement age is 60, and will gradually rise to 65 by 2013. When Britain introduced a 'default' retirement age of 65 in 2004, JAL raised its retirement age for flight attendants based in Britain to 65, in line with the new legislation. Legislator Lee Cheuk-yan said he and three unions representing airline staff were urging the government to introduce legislation that would make it illegal to force early retirement on cabin crews. Mr Lee said he had approached the Permanent Secretary for Economic Development and Labour, Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, to ask for a reassessment of the labour ordinance. However, the Labour Department said it had no record of Mr Lee's correspondence. 'We hope we can resolve this problem as soon as possible because people are being retired very early,' Mr Lee said. 'Age discrimination is a violation of the basic concept of equal opportunities. 'They don't force David Turnbull or Philip Chen [Cathay Pacific's chairman and chief executive] to retire early do they?' While the Labour Department has issued guidelines that ask companies not to discriminate on the grounds of age, Mr Lee said many companies, particularly airlines, refused to abide by them. One flight attendant who recently resigned from Japan Airlines said he left because he became disgruntled with the different treatment between those hired in the city and those recruited in Japan. 'There are no career prospects. There are no promotions for non-Japanese crew; you will not be able to be in charge of a compartment,' he said. 'No matter how long you work for the company or how good you are, if you are not Japanese you will never get promoted,' he said. The JAL spokesman admitted flight attendants recruited in Hong Kong also received substantially lower pay than Japan-based staff when they were first recruited. But the spokesman said salaries and fringe benefits complied with local laws. The policy of early retirement ages resulted in Cathay Pacific losing a sex discrimination court case brought by a female flight attendant who was forced to retire by her 45th birthday. Previously at Cathay, male cabin crew retired at 55, whereas women had to retire at 45. Cathay amended its policy in June 1993, bringing the retirement age down to 45 for all flight attendants hired after that date. Those hired before June 1993 can retire at 55. A Cathay spokeswoman said all cabin crew, regardless of whether they were hired in Hong Kong or overseas, now had to retire at 45 if they were hired after 1993, or take up other positions. A British Airways flight attendant who won a battle last year with her employers to set up a trade union to represent the airline's cabin crew, Carol Ng Man-yee, said her union and others hoped to urge airlines to extend the retirement age for staff. Cathay Pacific's Flight Attendants Union wants airlines to introduce flexible retirement ages for staff. Wilson Lee, general secretary of the union, said: 'We think cabin attendants should be able to choose if they want to retire at 45, 55 or 60.'