Cathay Pacific to restart vote on raising retirement age for cabin crew after system glitch causes concern
Support for plan would be followed by final vote to allow cuts in staff benefits to make higher age limit financially sustainable for the airline
A fresh vote has been ordered on raising the mandatory retirement age for Cathay Pacific Airways’ Hong Kong cabin crew, after concerns over vote manipulation marred the landmark ballot which began earlier this week.
Following a long-running industrial campaign, the company and the Flight Attendants’ Union will seek a simple majority on the proposal to up the retirement age from 55 to 60, allowing both sides to finalise a deal. The limit was last raised in 2008 from 45. Cathay Dragon cabin crew still retire aged 45.
It is being billed as the last chance for the 9,000-plus local workforce to make a decision.
The ballot, which originally began on Tuesday, was halted after the union highlighted concerns that the online voting system could be tampered with to make it easy to vote multiple times.
On Wednesday afternoon the airline ordered a new ballot to start later this week, with all previous votes annulled, in an effort to protect the integrity of the final result.
“We are aware of some concerns regarding to the security of the survey [hyperlink],” an airline spokeswoman said. “Cabin crew who already cast their preference in the survey will be required to participate again when new link becomes available in the next few days.”
Following the three-week vote, the result will be revealed around the end of the month.
Cathay Pacific said the objective of the survey was to ascertain whether the majority of Hong Kong-based cabin crew wanted to see the retirement age raised.
Some have expressed concerns that younger cabin crew would see their promotion chances affected by a higher retirement age, but Vera Wu Yee-mei, chairwoman of the Cathay Pacific Flight Attendants’ Union, said the company had slowed the rate of promotions and it was now more difficult to rise through the ranks.
“We have been fighting for this retirement age for so long ... if they vote ‘no’, there will be no more discussion,” Wu said.
“We understand we have to give and take ... so we have to persuade our members to say yes in order for us to continue this discussion on the retirement age.”
The union’s campaign material has used emotive language to whip up support, urging members: “Say yes! 5,000 votes in favour is a must or wave goodbye to your job at 55.”
Should the vote pass with majority approval, the union would have to put a final vote to members to make cutbacks and adjustments to medical benefits, pensions and housing allowance to make the 60 age limit financially sustainable for the airline.
Cathay Pacific can ill afford a surge in staff costs, having lost HK$575 million last year and facing intense competition. It recently cut 600 jobs and ordered a “comprehensive review” of the workforce in foreign airports and offices.
Should crew choose to stay until 60, foreign cabin crew from the likes of Singapore, Taiwan and Malaysia hired to work in Hong Kong could see their housing allowances – worth up to HK$11,000 a month – scrapped beyond the age of 55.
Cathay Pacific still ranks among top five airlines in the world, with other Hong Kong carriers also taking home accolades
Adjustments would also have to be made to the pension schemes of older crew, who would stop contributions to Hong Kong’s old retirement savings scheme and switch to the Mandatory Provident Fund.
The union has been holding talks with the airline’s management since the start of the year.
“We have been discussing mitigation if we extend to 60,” Wu said. “The company will pay more while it wants to save costs, so they asked us to find solutions to rein in costs while they extend the age.”
Bocom International Holdings’ head of transportation and industrial research, Geoffrey Cheng, said the changes could be financially beneficial to Hong Kong’s flagship airline: “The best-case scenario for management is they will be able to save money from raising the retirement age. The worst-case scenario is working on an assumption they will break even – they will assume how many people will choose to stay on after 55.”