The Rights and Complaints Department
“Employee’s Rights to Representation Consultation and Collective Bargaining Ordinance” seems to be the most short-lived ordinance in Hong Kong history. Mutual agreement between individual unions and employers replaces the law for a collective bargaining meeting. It is rare for unions to have such agreement with their employers, when employers have little incentive to change their superior status in such an employment relationship. The Hong Kong Aircrew Officers Association (HKAOA) is one of the few unions to conclude a collective bargaining agreement with its employer, Cathay Pacific (CX). Mr. Chris Beebe (General Secretary of HKAOA) shared with us their experience on collective bargaining and the challenge that HKAOA faces.
HKPTU: How does your collective bargaining agreement with Cathay Pacific operate?
Mr. Beebe: The agreement enables us to arrange a collective bargaining meeting with Cathay Pacific on several issues, including: Pays, scheduling and the HK allowance for housing. We also have a good-faith agreement with Cathay, this enables either of the parties to put new items in the agenda after both parties mutually agree.
HKPTU: Sometimes companies may use a “divide and conquer” tactic to sabotage a collective bargaining meeting. They may give goodies to a group of employees rather than all employees. As a result, there are less union members to support the union to go for a collective bargaining. Do HKAOA face the same challenge?
Mr. Beebe: There is a slimmer chance for Cathay Pacific to use this tactic to sabotage a collective bargaining. In our agreement, there are terms to prohibit Cathay to go to a pilot for a collective bargaining item. In the same way, the union is also prohibited from going to a member of broad of directors for a collective bargaining item.
In order to ensure HKAOA can represent the members to go for a collective bargaining, we have signed a Recognition Agreement with Cathay Pacific. It recognizes HKAOA as the collective bargaining representative of the Cathay Pacific pilot.
HKPTU: Does it mean: when HKAOA calls for a collective bargaining meeting, Cathay must attend the meeting? Did the company ever refuse to honor the agreement?
Mr. Beebe: We do provide a way for either of the parties to cancel a meeting in our agreement. The party needs to give a period of 30 to 90 days to notify its counterpart for cancelling the meeting. So far, Cathay has honored our agreement and made collective bargaining possible.
HKPTU: You mentioned that HKAOA also represents pilots outside HK, their expectation on reasonable treatment may be different from HK pilots. Would this pose difficulties in bargaining with the company?
Mr. Beebe: It is definitely a challenge. For example, Cathay has 28 different pay scales for pilots. Thus, HKAOA needs to do a lot of analysis to set up a benchmark, which ensures everybody to get an equal pay rise, to negotiate with the company. In order to work in our members’ best interests, we communicate with members frequently via emails and the HKAOA website. In addition, the union leadership has a face-to-face focus meeting with the pilots periodically. When things move along quickly, we will have this kind of meetings as frequent as once in several weeks.
HKPTU: Do pilots respond well to these meetings?
Mr. Beebe: Yes, the meetings go well. We are fortunate that pilots understand the importance of solidarity. They understand that they can be very alone when facing the company, while the union can provide a shield and much more resource for them to protect themselves from the maltreatment of the company.
Owing to the nature of pilot’s work, it is quite difficult to gather pilots for a meeting and maintain stable relation with our members. There are always pilots flying away from HK. Pilots may be assigned to work with different crew members every time and may not see each other again for the rest of their career. So we are blessed that we can keep in touch with pilots and maintain our membership.