SCMP Wednesday, July 11, 2001

Sacked pilots seek solace and support


To look at them, the group of sacked Cathay Pacific pilots who gathered in a Tsim Sha Tsui hotel yesterday afternoon could have been there for a celebration.
There were laughs, cups of tea, introductions, jokes and even biscuits with pink smiley faces on them - at least before the meeting called by the pilots' union got under way and journalists were asked to leave.
But for those who listened closely, it was a more sombre story. "I don't know what I've done," said one pilot simply. Another said he had been sick. A third joked management must have overheard one of his recent conversations. Nearby, a group of spouses chatted about a pilot woken up overseas to be read his sacking letter over the phone and the wife who got the news when home alone.
"I got fired by fax," one pilot said, with a smile.
There was speculation about whether Cathay would pay to fly pilots sacked overseas back home. Someone asked whether a colleague had spent all of his three months' severance pay yet.
Two pilots said their last communications from the company, before the sackings, were letters thanking them for exceeding the call of duty.
The meeting was for the union to discuss internal procedures for appealing against the sackings and other support which could be offered. There were about 30 people there, pilots and their relatives. One of the sacked pilots, not a union member, was said to be a father of five.
Union general secretary, John Findlay, said Cathay had not provided them with a list of 52 pilots sacked so they were relying on members affected - some of them still overseas - to get in touch with them.
Airlines work on a seniority system so a senior pilot sacked would have to start as a junior if they went somewhere else, according to the Aircrew Officers' Association.
However, the pilots yesterday didn't seem to be contemplating that fate seriously quite yet.
"The fight's not over," as one pilot's wife put it.