SCMP Tuesday, July 10, 2001


Union outrage after Cathay sacks 49 pilots

VICTORIA BUTTON, ANGELA LI and MAY SIN-MI HON

Updated at 12.10am:
Cathay Pacific yesterday sacked 49 pilots including a key union negotiator and imposed a new employment deal on air crew.
An Aircrew Officers' Association committee member and negotiator, Brad Harris, is believed to be among those sacked. Meanwhile, union secretary Dave Clapson and member Peter Van der Meulen were revealed to be among three pilots sacked previously by the airline.
Before pilots met in Discovery Bay last night, the union's leadership said it would not be provoked into escalating its limited industrial action.
Union general secretary John Findlay claimed the sackings would be illegal overseas and constituted a conspiracy to break the union. He described them as ''shameful and disgraceful'' and accused the company of ''bully-boy tactics''.
Cathay spokesman Tony Tyler insisted union membership was not the reason the 52 pilots had been sacked. He claimed not to know how many of the sacked pilots were union members even though the company traditionally deducts union dues from pay.
''We have undertaken a detailed review of the employment history of all our pilots and identified those who, we feel, cannot be relied upon to act in the best interests of the company in the future. We have, essentially, lost confidence in those employees,'' he said.
The review, which started a few days ago, was prompted by the union making it clear industrial action could last as long as a year, Mr Tyler said.
Asked for examples of what pilots had done to warrant sacking, he said one had repeatedly verbally abused ground staff while another had called in sick on short notice five times in six months. The sacked pilots were 23 captains and 26 first officers.
The airline also imposed a new package of benefits and pay increases on pilots, including rises of up to nine per cent, increased education, housing and maternity benefits and improved rostering. The package was less generous than a previous offer made during negotiations because of the cost of the dispute, Mr Tyler said.
Mr Findlay called on the Government to review industrial laws to protect workers.
''Can Hong Kong ever be Asia's world city when this sort of action is allowed?'' he asked. ''What message will the Chief Executive take to the United States when one of his major companies is using archaic, strong-arm, union-busting methods.
''They are destroying the careers and family life of many of their pilots. Today's action by Cathay Pacific is disgraceful,'' he said.
Cathay yesterday operated 83 flights out of an original schedule of 122. Up to 8pm, 35 flights had been delayed by more than 15 minutes and six flights by more than an hour.
Speaking at government headquarters on the eve of his departure for Washington DC today on a United Airlines flight Tung Chee-hwa urged the Cathay management and its pilots to find a long-term and good solution to end the row as soon as possible.
''The strike or the industrial action at Cathay Pacific is seriously affecting our economy, creating inconvenience for our travelling public and affecting our tourism,'' Mr Tung said.