Hopes fly high on Cathay retirement age

Top News | Chan Ho-him 5 Dec 2016

Cathay Pacific appears ready to raise the retirement age for flight attendants from 55 to 60.

Pension fund arrangements are among issues to be resolved, and that will be high on the order of business after a working group made up of representatives of the Cathay Pacific Airways Flight Attendants Union and the airline is formed in February.

Other financial issues and adjusted promotion packages will also be up for discussion, union chairwoman Dora Lai Yuk-sim told The Standard yesterday.

Cathay has said that at least half of the 9,000 flight attendants must back the retirement age extension.

Lai said she is confident the union will gather that support, "but it will take an immense effort."

The age raise will not happen until January 2018 at the earliest.

The union will have to carry out a survey among attendants over the next year to collect views on the issue, with questions drafted by a third-party consultant. Still, it recently gathered over 3,600 signatures for a petition to extend the retirement age to 65.

The retirement age for Cathay attendants went from 45 to 55 in 2008.

Attendants at Hong Kong Airlines and Hong Kong Express as well as Cathay Dragon have a retirement age of 45. But Lai said Hong Kong is behind other Asian airlines, which have an average retirement age of 60. Some, such as Philippines Airlines and All Nippon Airways, run to 65.

Lai also said the airline had in recent negotiations sought to limit the age extension to 57 for attendants, and there was strong resistance to make it 65 as promotion prospects of younger staff would be affected.

On the abilities of attendants to work beyond 55, Lai pointed out that all must undergo strict physical checks and safety procedure tests every year. Meantime, the goal remains to see statutory retirement at 65.

Pilots at Cathay Pacific retire at 65 and ground staff at 60. But UK-based attendants can continue to 65.

Besides resolving pension problems, Lai said, issues to be tackled include benefits and the extended retirement age only being applicable to union members, which could encourage more attendants to join the 7,200-strong union.

"There have been strong sentiments among union members that benefits [negotiated by us] should only be shared by members," she said, but the airline responded that such a deal would be difficult.

Cathay has granted a wage increase of 2 percent -- the lowest for four years, and less than half what the union wanted, which was 5 percent. There is also a discretionary bonus equivalent to a month's pay.

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