Asia’s largest airline, Cathay Pacific Airways is poised to extend the retirement age of its 9,000 Hong Kong-based cabin crew from 55 to 60 as early as next year, as a proposal won majority support in an internal ballot. Some 5,007 of 9,032 cabin crew – or 55 per cent – voted to raise the retirement age, according to an internal memo the Post obtained. About 3,000 people did not cast a ballot and 1,000 opposed the plan, a union said. This means the airline must fashion a deal with its labour unions such that implementing the new age limit does not deepen its financial burden after losing HK$575 million last year.

Pilot pay and pensions targeted as Cathay Pacific looks to slash HK$1 billion in costs
The survey, mutually agreed by Cathay Pacific and its labour unions, was meant to address cabin crew discontent, as the company now imposes an earlier retirement age compared with employees of its other departments. “From the survey, it is clear that different views exist among our people,” an airline spokesman said. “We are sensitive to the fact that some of our people will view the outcome less positively.”

The majority vote enables cabin crew members to push for the retirement age extension. The company’s working group is to finalise details with management later this year. Cabin crew found the result “encouraging” despite the narrow margin of support, according to Vera Wu Yee-mei, chairwoman of the Cathay Pacific Flight Attendants’ Union, noting 81 per cent of those who had voted supported the proposal.

Those who rejected it cited concerns raised by some younger cabin crew members that their promotion opportunities might be worse with a higher retirement age. “The survey is bound to generate different opinions, but the bigger issue is we have to stop age discrimination against cabin crew at the company,” Wu said. She described the union as receptive to discussing plans to cut certain employee benefits so that the extension would not add to the troubled airline’s burdens. But Wu also made clear that staff layoffs would be least desirable. “It would be pathetic if the company decided to sack people or stop hiring new employees at the end of the day, especially when cabin crews are already seriously understaffed.”

Cathay Pacific cut 600 jobs in May and ordered a “comprehensive review” of its workforce at foreign airports and offices. During its previous meetings with labour unions, the airline proposed to reduce housing allowances, medical benefits and pensions to make the extension financially viable. Related labour unions are to meet airline management next Tuesday for further discussions, Wu said.

“We are not resistant to such proposals in general, but it all depends on the details,” she explained. Several Hong Kong-based airlines offer earlier retirement than Cathay Pacific, with flight attendants at Hong Kong Airlines, Hong Kong Express Airways and Cathay Dragon able to retire at 45. But cabin crew at many Asian airlines can still work at 60 or above. For example, China Airlines, All Nippon Airways and Philippine Airlines have a retirement age of 65 for their flight attendants. The age limit for Japan Airlines, Korean Air, Malaysia Airlines and Thai Airways is 60, while it is 62 for Singapore Airlines.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Cabin crew at Cathay vote to retire at 60


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