A Hong Kong High Court judge has ruled that Cathay Pacific Airways, Ltd. unfairly fired and defamed 18 pilots in 2001, and has ordered the carrier to pay the pilots HK$58.7 million -- an amount equivalent to nearly US$8 million. The pilots were among 49 who were fired by Cathay during a labor dispute. The fired pilots became known as the 49ers.
According to an article about the court ruling on BBC News, the pilots were fired when they started a work-to-rule campaign. The pilots told the court they were often made to fly longer than agreed hours, with not enough breaks between flights.
Although the airline claimed that the pilots were dismissed due to frequent sick days and a negative attitude toward management, the judge ruled that "the predominant reason for the plaintiffs' termination by Cathay was their perceived participation in union activities."
Hong Kong news Web site The Standard reported that Court of First Instance Judge Anselmo Reyes said:
"What I derive is that the 49ers were principally dismissed because management was unable to make headway in last-minute negotiations with the union.Bloomberg.com reports that, of the 18 plaintiff pilots, 16 were awarded HK$3.3 million in damages for defamation and HK$150,000 for wrongful dismissal each. One pilot didn’t get awarded damages for defamation and one didn’t get damages for wrongful dismissal. The pilots also were awarded their legal costs.
"Cathay's intention was to show union members that management was prepared to take tough action against pilots who participated in MSS [Maximum Safety Strategy, a form of limited industrial action].
"The 49ers were singled out by the review panel as persons who by reason of their sickness records and ostensibly argumentative character were probably the most active supporters of the union cause.
"By dismissing them, Cathay hoped to send a strong signal to other union members to comply with management's line or else face a similar fate as the 49ers."
One of the 18 plaintiff pilots died in 2002. The Standard says that the deceased pilot's family "will not be compensated for defamation, but like the others will receive HK$150,000 for wrongful dismissal in addition to a month's pay."
The other 31 pilots who were fired at the same time also sued, but according to BBC News, they settled with the carrier at an earlier date.