Cathay Pacific pilots dial down talk of strike if pay dispute remains unresolved
Union says members will vote on next steps from December 13 to 27 to protect pilots’ interests, but the ‘last thing’ it wants is to take industrial action
Cathay Pacific Airways pilots on Thursday dialled down earlier talk of a strike during the year-end holidays, saying they had no plans to walk out, but their union did say it was preparing for a possible “escalation” if the company presses ahead with pay cuts.
The union said that if Hong Kong’s flag carrier makes unilateral cuts without an agreement, then it would consider some form of action.
Negotiations to reduce pilot costs at the loss-making carrier, which is looking to trim HK$4 billion from its books by 2019, had been going on for more than four months but stalled last Thursday as managers and pilots reached an impasse over cuts to pay, housing benefits and pensions.
Although sources had indicated a strike was one of the options on the table, as confirmed by union sources, the union itself later insisted such talk was premature, “incorrect” and “false”.
It put such talk down to confusion over an upcoming ballot on how pilots should prepare in the event of a “no-deal” situation.
The Hong Kong Aircrew Officers’ Association (HKAOA), which represents and negotiates for 80 per cent of the airline’s 3,000 pilots, said it had proposed its own HK$1.4 billion cost savings, which it expected to be rejected. Cathay Pacific is seeking just HK$1 billion in cuts from pilot costs.
“We have no plans to strike,” a union spokesman said when asked about a memo that was sent out to members.
“The published HKAOA Motion for Possible Industrial Escalation refers to defensive action solely for use in the event of unilateral company action.
“Our position is simple: the pilots of Cathay Pacific should receive market-competitive compensation for the vitally important role we play in the airline’s operations. We are determined to find solutions and reach a deal with Cathay Pacific. Industrial action is the last thing we want.”
Pilots are being targeted for cuts as almost half of the company’s HK$19.7 billion spending on staff costs last year went on pilots, who make up 14.6 per cent of its 26,670-strong workforce.
Both sides have until Christmas to agree a new deal or risk a no-deal post-deadline scenario.
In September, more than 1,000 pilots eligible for housing benefits of up to HK$1.2 million per year were told that the amounts would be reduced from next January.
Cathay Pacific slashed 600 head office jobs this year, with more cuts expected in the new year for the company’s overseas workforce.
When the company revealed its financial performance for the first half of this year in August and announced a loss of HK$2.05 billion, its chairman John Slosar said bosses would “manage our revenue better”.
The airline said that the outcome of its “transformation” would start to be seen in the second half of this year and that the benefit of lower costs to its bottom line would become clearer next year.
Cathay Pacific said the airline and the pilots had been in discussions and working hard to come to an agreement. “We will continue our efforts to achieve an agreeable outcome,” a spokeswoman for the airline said.
The union’s last major industrial action, in 2001, led to the sacking of 49 pilots in one day, about a week into their action.