Cathay Pacific

Meetings to tempt Cathay Pacific pilots to switch jobs cancelled after legal warning

Longreach Aviation had hoped to take advantage of Hong Kong carrier’s planned cuts to salaries and benefits, and lure its pilots to mainland airlines

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 October, 2017, 4:26pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 October, 2017, 11:27pm

A recruitment agency that sought to lure 200 Cathay Pacific Airways pilots into new jobs with mainland Chinese airlines cancelled a hiring event scheduled for Tuesday, after the government warned its approaches could be illegal.

Longreach Aviation, an Australia- and Hong Kong-based company hiring for state-owned and private Chinese airlines, pulled the plug following “legal advice”.

The recruiter had intended to capitalise on a plan by loss-making Cathay Pacific to cut salaries and benefits, and hire its pilots to help meet huge demand for foreign pilots on the mainland.

To do so, it planned a series of “roadshow” meetings with prospective recruits this week.

But on Monday evening it cancelled the events.

“We regret to advise you that, due to circumstances beyond our control, the roadshows on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday have had to be cancelled,” the recruiter wrote in an email to pilots.

“We have received legal advice today and unfortunately we are unable to proceed with the events as planned.”

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The first of the meetings, planned for Tuesday, was considered a breach of Labour Department laws, according to a person familiar with the matter, prompting the sudden cancellation on Monday evening. Another source said the department had threatened the company with a fine if it went ahead with the event.

Longreach apologised to pilots for the last-minute cancellation. It said it “had no option other than to cancel”.

The Labour Department said any company wishing to run an employment agency in Hong Kong has to apply for a licence.

“When coming across any person or business … allegedly performing job placement business, it is standard practice for the Employment Agencies Administration of the Labour Department to remind the party concerned of the relevant regulation,” a spokesman for the department said, commenting on the Longreach cancellations.

Deborah White, a spokeswoman for the recruiter, would not say who gave the legal advice.

A Cathay Pacific source said it had no knowledge of the development.

Chris Beebe, general secretary of the Hong Kong Aircrew Officers Association, was less than satisfied. “When pilots are anticipating a career change, they certainly deserve a full explanation with regards to a situation like this,” he said.

Foreign airlines regularly come to Hong Kong to attract city-based pilots to switch employers. It was unclear why Longreach could not do the same at its event.

One senior Cathay Pacific pilot, who was not authorised to speak on the matter, said it was “very disappointing if [the] Labour Department is blocking workers from exercising their free will.”

Hong Kong’s marquee airline has made cuts including shedding 600 staff , as part of a three-year plan to reverse the HK$2.05 billion loss it recorded in the first half of this year and a HK$575 million deficit for 2016.