Don’t force Cathay Pacific cabin crew to retire at 55
Philip Yeung says imposing the limit on its mostly female crew of flight attendants is not just discriminatory, but also defies common sense at a time of longer lifespans
There are some things in Hong Kong I will never understand. Corporate behaviour is one of them. Another is government indifference or connivance at unsavoury business practices that impinge on our livelihood.
Consider the case of Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong’s proud flag carrier. It requires its cabin crew to retire at the youngish age of 55. Conveniently, in this city, age discrimination is not an offence in law. Since most cabin crew members are female, Cathay’s practice is teetering close to sex discrimination, for the mandatory retirement rule applies only to flight attendants, not to pilots, who are predominantly male. Cathay is at least guilty of unfair inconsistency.
When you remember that the average lifespan for women here is over 87 years, has anyone stopped to think what you are supposed to do with the 32 years after you have to retire? This practice simply defies common sense.
Cathay may have taken its cue from the government, which offers civil servants the option to retire early at 55, a practice intended to make room for up-and-coming employees. But, for a city that is demographically on the critical list, with a fast-ageing population, this policy has outlived its usefulness, except where declining physical powers affect job performance, as in the case of firefighters, for example.
The Cathay Pacific Airways Flight Attendants Union is now fighting back, splashing ads across local papers to plead for an end to this outdated practice. Though it lacks jurisdiction, the Equal Opportunities Commission should take a moral stand on this dispute, lest it send the wrong signal to private industry.
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Elsewhere, the reality is quite different. I remember when I flew with United Airlines years ago, its first-class cabin was staffed wholly by grey-haired stewardesses, whom I called “the Grandmother Brigade”. They earned their place in the preferred cabin by virtue of their seniority. By contrast, Cathay Pacific sends its young flight attendants to serve its premium passengers.
If All-Nippon Airways can keep its flight attendants on until 65, and if Singapore Airlines, Cathay’s rival, can let them work until 62, then Cathay’s argument, whatever it is, doesn’t have a leg to stand on.
Cathay leads the world in customer service but lags in enlightened employment practices. If it wishes to make early retirement an option, its employees would doubtless welcome that. Sadly, in this self-proclaimed world city, you have to fight for what is taken for granted in other places.
Philip Yeung is a former speech-writer to the president of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. [email protected]