View Full Version : Cathay's final settlement offer to 49ers

25th Jan 2005, 20:29
From south china morning post, hong kong

Members of the Hong Kong Aircrew Officers' Association vote in 2002 to continue their support for the sacked pilots. Picture by Dustin Shum

There is no hiding the emotional baggage John Warham still carries three-and-a-half years after he was fired from his job as a senior Airbus captain at Cathay Pacific, just one of a group of pilots collectively known as the 49ers.
"How do you think it feels?" he replies sourly over drinks in a Kowloon bar. "If I hadn't been fired, I believe I would probably still be medically fit to fly and I would probably still be with my wife."

Mr Warham, 52, had been a Cathay pilot for 17 years and was five years short of retirement when he was sacked by the airline after the pilots began a work-to-rule action during a long-running dispute over working rosters.

The following year, he suffered a minor heart attack, leaving him medically unfit to fly. Six months ago, he split up with his wife. Mr Warham finds it impossible not to link the two events to his dismissal in July 2001.

"My career is finished," he said. "Had I still been employed by Cathay Pacific at the time of my heart attack, I would have received five years' pay under my loss of licence insurance. Because they fired me, I had no loss of licence insurance so I received nothing.

"I split up with my wife, the woman I had been with for 21 years. Who can say whether I would have had a heart attack or split up with my wife because of what Cathay did to me? But if you talk to anyone who knows about stress, they'll tell you it will have been a factor.

"Four years ago, I was a senior captain with a major airline. Now I don't have a career, I don't have my wife, and I am having to rebuild from the ground up.

"It's not just me. The same kind of thing has happened to many of the 49ers."

Much of Mr Warham's time since his sacking has been absorbed by an ongoing legal battle in four different jurisdictions by the 49ers. They are seeking to have Cathay's actions declared illegal and to win reinstatement for those willing to return and compensation for those unwilling or unable to.

Now, after lengthy negotiations between Cathay and the 1,000-member Aircrew Officers' Association, the airline has put forward an offer of either 10 months' pay or interviews for positions as freighter pilots. In return, the 49ers must drop their legal actions.

Association members have already begun voting on whether to endorse the deal, which is supported by the union committee and which Cathay insists is a full and final offer. If two thirds vote in favour of it, legal funding for the 49ers will be cut off.

The 49ers are being polled separately with results expected to be made known to association members on February 1. Mr Warham is confident that the 49ers will reject it and that the association members will not accept the deal if the 49ers oppose it.

Union sources, however, say they believe the voting will be much tighter with early estimations suggesting as many as a third of the 49ers will definitely accept it and another third are still considering whether or not to accept it.

Mr Warham, a former union president and negotiator, emphasised that he did not believe there was any schism within the association over the issue and said the union committee deserved credit for getting Cathay to the negotiating table. He just feels it is too soon to settle.

"My judgment call is that we should reject this offer and continue down our current path to negotiate a better deal," he said. "We have to ask ourselves whether 10 months' pay is fair and equitable treatment for men who have had their careers destroyed by the way Cathay has treated them.

"The resolution of the 49ers issue is critical to everyone being able to move forward. I am trying to be objective, but I have seen a friend of mine die [49er Greg England, 31, who died after falling from the window of a flat in Wan Chai in January 2002].

"I have seen friends of mine whose marriages have broken up. I have seen people's careers destroyed. I have seen people in terrible financial straits, people losing their houses, people unable to pursue their careers or get employment because they are effectively blacklisted. It is extremely emotive."

It is the high level of emotion surrounding the issue that, in the view of another 49er who supports the deal offer by Cathay, is blurring the judgment of people such as Mr Warham. "If they put their emotions to one side and sit down and look at what is on offer they would realise it is not a bad deal," he said.

The 32-year-old Vancouver-based pilot, who asked not to be named, said he wanted to accept the deal and would apply for a job back with Cathay Pacific. "In five years' time, I hope I will be a captain with Cathay," he said.

"When I was fired it was a huge shock. I had been with Cathay for five years and it was a career we all thought we would have until our retirement day. To be honest I have no idea to this day why I was picked out. I wasn't active with the union. I wasn't a militant guy. I think they were just trying to make a point.

"I did feel bad but it has been three-and-a-half years now and time has moved on. I am very interested in the offer. There are a couple of downsides but a lot of upside. It gives us a lot more than we have right now."

Since his sacking, the 32-year-old has married, become a father, and got a job with a budget airline. He says he has put his bad feelings towards Cathay over his sacking behind him and would like to rejoin the airline. "The job I have now is a means to an end," he said. "Working for Cathay Pacific is a career. It is a much bigger airline and it is a higher-paying job. I have made the decision to go back. I have to just accept what happened and move on.

"There are a lot of 49ers who have a lot of unrealistic expectations. Some of them want far more than Cathay Pacific will be willing to give, so they are disappointed with what has been offered. I think the offer is reasonable."

By contrast, another 49er keen to return to work for Cathay posted a message to colleagues on a pilots' website yesterday, urging them to reject the deal which he described as "punitive". "At the very least I deserve to be returned to my previous salary and position on the seniority list," he said. "I believe that Cathay will not go to court and that there will be a better offer."

Nick Rhodes, director of flight operations with Cathay Pacific, said it was not surprising the debate over the airline's settlement offer appeared to have reopened old wounds.

"There is still a level of emotion there," he said. "It polarises people. Some want to have their day in court. Some are very keen to accept the offer and have a chance of making a career with Cathay again."

He said the offer had come about because of a combination of an improved working relationship with the Aircrew Officers' Association and the financial strain of the drawn-out legal proceedings in different jurisdictions.

"We are dealing with a very different association and there is a very different committee which has a very business-minded approach and a real willingness to work with the company," Mr Rhodes said.

"The court cases meanwhile are taking a lot of time. We expected to have seen the court cases through to their conclusion, but it's been three-and-a-half years now and it looks as if it is going to be a similar time before they are concluded.

"There will be a lot of legal expenses on both sides so it makes sense to settle out of court if there is a fair deal on the table."

However, Mr Rhodes firmly brushed aside suggestions that Cathay might be prepared to up its offer if the pilots rejected it.

"It has taken us a long time to get to this point. It is a full and final offer from the company. It is definitely a final offer," he said.

"We are drawing a line now and offering to settle out of court. We are prepared to redirect some of the funds [that would otherwise be spent in court] and make what we consider to be a fair out of court settlement. If it is not taken the only option is to complete the legal process," Mr Rhodes said.

Mr Warham, who will never pilot a plane again but hopes to convince those who will to hold out for a better deal, refuses to believe Cathay Pacific's stand is anything more than a negotiating position.

"I have seen management doing 180s before," he said. "This deal is completely one-sided and aimed at satisfying Cathay's objectives. They don't want to go to court."

But another 49er, Canadian father of two Steve Urquhart, 36, says he does not want the union to gamble with his future. "It's not the deal I hoped for but it might be the last offer we get that involves the chance to get a job back with Cathay," he said.

"There is a lot of pressure from the 49ers who don't want this voted in. Of the 49ers who do want to accept it, some people aren't willing to speak up. Personally I will be very disappointed if I lose the opportunity to get my job back."

25th Jan 2005, 20:48
Thank you Sir for your update, its been a long long time for you. 500 of us, on the edge of Europe, are still wearing our 49er neck bands, holding our IDs every day. We all hope and pray for you.
Best wishes

25th Jan 2005, 22:20
A thread here (http://www.pprune.org/forums/showthread.php?s=&threadid=159746) on the subject too.