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Hong Kong aviation

Cathay Pacific pilots back union plan for industrial ‘escalation’ if talks on conditions fail

Members are poised to act if Hong Kong’s flagship airline imposes new terms without their consent – but Christmas travel will not be affected

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 December, 2017, 5:02pm
UPDATED : Friday, 22 December, 2017, 11:04pm

Cathay Pacific Airways’ union-backed pilots have overwhelmingly approved proposals to lay the groundwork to ramp up an industrial dispute should cost-saving negotiations fail and are raising funds as an insurance against potentially costly action.

The Hong Kong Aircrew Officers Association (HKAOA) said 87 per cent of its members who voted approved plans to prepare for future industrial “escalation”.

The vote consisted of three motions which were backed by members. The union, which represents 90 per cent of Cathay pilots, stressed there were no plans for Christmas travel disruption.

Pilots are poised to act if Hong Kong’s flagship airline imposes new contract terms and conditions without the consent of cockpit crew.

Cathay Pacific pilots dial down talk of strike if pay dispute remains unresolved

Cathay’s most senior pilots are still seething after being overlooked for the company’s traditional end-of-year bonus. The omission further aggravated pilots, with 400 cockpit crew signing a letter of dissent rebuking management.

Chris Beebe, the union’s general secretary, said of the vote: “The result of this vote is no surprise. We have seen plummeting lows in goodwill between Cathay Pacific and our membership as we reach the end of 2017.”

Relations have become increasingly strained through negotiations which have faltered in recent weeks.

The loss-making airline had earlier attempted to axe a HK$900 million (US$115.3 million) accommodation payment scheme to 1,000 senior cockpit crews worth up to HK$100,000 a month each, but reversed its decision as union talks stalled.

Housing cost cuts were part of Cathay’s earlier efforts to get its 3,200 pilots to accept pay freezes and changes in pension benefits to help slash HK$1 billion from its expenses.

The airline was seeking a 10 per cent reduction by 2019 through a pay freeze, unspecified pension changes and productivity improvements. The climbdown hit the airline’s bid to cut costs.

During the airline negotiations, the union offered HK$1.4 billion worth of cost savings, however, the savings would be pared back and some perks reinstated if the airline’s profitability improved.

Beebe added: “Our request is simple: the pilots of Cathay Pacific should receive market-competitive compensation for the vitally important role we play in the airline’s operations.

“If Cathay Pacific is unable to recognise this simple, universal commercial reality, then the chance for a positive outcome from future negotiations is highly unlikely.”

Cathay Pacific strike averted as cabin crew union agrees last-minute deal

In a statement, a Cathay Pacific spokeswoman said: “We have been engaging our pilots and discussing with the HKAOA. We will continue to work in a collaborative manner with an aim to come to an agreeable solution.”

As part of the preparations for an industrial escalation, 82 per cent of pilots voted to pay into a union war chest fund to give financial help to any members affected by future disciplinary action. Based on the seniority of pilots, members would be charged HK$100 to HK$500 per month until the special fees are cancelled.

Hong Kong’s flag carrier is working through making HK$4 billion in cost cuts over three years, which included 600 job cuts so far. It lost HK$2.05 billion in the first half of 2017, after a full-year loss of HK$575 million in 2016.