Hong Kong Cathay pilots in 'work-to- rule' over pay dispute

A Cathay Pacific cargo plane. Pilots of the Hong Kong flag carrier were due to start work-to-rule action on Thursday after long-running pay talks broke down, raising the prospect of delays and cancellations in the run-up to Christmas. -- PHOTO: CATHA
A Cathay Pacific cargo plane. Pilots of the Hong Kong flag carrier were due to start work-to-rule action on Thursday after long-running pay talks broke down, raising the prospect of delays and cancellations in the run-up to Christmas. -- PHOTO: CATHAY PACIFIC AIRWAYS 

HONG KONG (AFP) - Pilots of Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific were due to start work-to-rule action Thursday after long-running pay talks broke down, raising the prospect of delays and cancellations in the run-up to Christmas.

Union leaders announced the move - which will see pilots work only their contractual hours - as the latest round of negotiations with airline management over pay and working hours failed.

"It is unfortunate that a year of negotiations has brought us to this point," said Chris Beebe, General Secretary of the Hong Kong Aircrew Officers Association (HKAOA).

The union represents more than 2,000 Cathay pilots and said that 92 per cent of members had approved the action.

"The pilot members, who are based in Hong Kong, New Zealand and the United States, will be instructed to perform their assigned duties in strict conformance with their existing conditions of service," HKAOA said in a statement late Wednesday.

Beebe said the union "looks forward to resuming talks with management for a fairer, more equitable agreement on pay".

A lack of pilots has led to some having to work additional shifts, reports said.

"The pilot shortage has always been serious. Some are called to work twice a month on their rostered days off," one pilot told the South China Morning Post Thursday.

The industrial action comes despite a four per cent salary hike announced in November, backdated to January 2014 and running until the end of April 2015.

Cathay said it was "extremely disappointed" at the decision and that talks would now be put "on hold".

"We are confident that the flight crew community are aware of the high expectation from the travelling public.

"We believe they will continue to fulfill their duties and would not cause any inconvenience to passengers in the upcoming festive holidays," it said in a statement.

Germany's Lufthansa, Europe's biggest airline, was also braced for a pilots strike Thursday, with tensions heightened by its plans to expand into low-cost intercontinental services.

Pilots union Vereinigung Cockpit (VC) Tuesday announced this week's second strike, which will hit long-haul and cargo flights.

Its 36-hour strike Monday and Tuesday caused more than 1,000 flights to be scrapped and disrupted services to destinations including London, Dubai, Seoul, Tel Aviv and Buenos Aires.