Cathay Pacific has confirmed it will shut its Australian pilot base in a move that will lead to 120 staff facing a choice between redundancy or relocating to Hong Kong.
The announcement comes only months after the business shut its Canadian pilot base, which followed the closing of its regional offshoot Cathay Dragon and overseas cabin crew bases, cutting 5,900 jobs since the start of the pandemic.
The news was broken to staff via emails to pilots, only hours after receiving information about their recruitment efforts in Hong Kong.
Aircrew general manager Deborah McConnochie apologised for “not being able to find an alternative”.
“This is not a decision we have made lightly and is not a reflection on the performance of our Australian-based pilots, we will now do all we can to support you through this process” said McConnochie.
The Australian reported that more than 40 of those affected are based in Melbourne, 27 are in Sydney, 26 in Brisbane, 15 in Perth and nine in Adelaide.
Cathay attracted controversy last year after reports emerged the airline gave remaining local pilots just one week to agree and sign new contracts, or risk immediate termination. Some reports said this could result in pilots taking a 60 per cent hit.
The options for pilots in this instance included either a redundancy package or a relocation to Hong Kong. However, this would require obtaining a work permit from the Chinese government.
The pandemic saw Cathay, like all airlines, face extreme financial losses. Nonetheless, they received funding from the Australian government to operate freight flights, ensuring necessary exports could still be received.
However, in March 2021, Cathay offered 30 return flights to Australia, but less than 5 per cent of the seats were occupied.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Cathay received over $11 million under the International Air Freight Mechanism, which is extended to September. However, it did not qualify for the $2 billion international aviation support measure.
After receiving backlash from pilots, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack believed that the measure was about “retaining a core Australian international aviation workforce and operational capability”.
“The government considers that assistance for international operators of passenger services is best addressed through airlines working with their home country’s governments to determine the appropriateness and extent of assistance measures,” said Deputy PM McCormack’s chief of staff, obtained by The Australian.
Hong Kong unions announced their collective fight against this move when it was first proposed, believing this decision forced many pilots to make drastic career changing decisions, however they have not commented since the latest update.