Seniors win right to keep on flying

23 December 2014

News Articles , Employment Law

A lawyer says an Employment Court ruling allowing two Kiwi airline pilots to continue flying until the age of 65 is ground-breaking.

Cathay Pacific senior captains David Brown and Glen Sycamore claimed being forced to retire at the age of 55, as stated in their employment agreements, was discrimination.

An Employment Court judge has agreed and both men have now won the right to fly for another decade.

Speaking on behalf of his clients, lawyer Garry Pollak said it was a case of significance and both men were pleased to have stood their ground.

Mr Pollak said both men were based in New Zealand, were citizens, and considered it wrong to be discriminated against solely because of age.

"They have been with Cathay for many years and both come from the Royal New Zealand Air Force and are very pleased they will not be forced to retire.

"They are pleased they went to the court and both felt Cathay's decision to dismiss them solely based on age was unfair and discriminatory."

Mr Brown and Mr Sycamore are employed by New Zealand Basing Limited (NZBL) and fly for Cathay Pacific Limited (Cathay Pacific), of which NZBL is a wholly owned subsidiary.

Under both men's employment agreements a clause stated they were required to retire at the age of 55.

Mr Brown and Mr Sycamore turn 55 in 2015, and claimed being forced to retire then was discrimination.

In his judgment, Judge Bruce Corkill said in 2003, after the establishment of NZBL, a case involving five pilots came before the London South Employment Tribunal.

The five pilots were originally employed by Cathay Pacific in Hong Kong, but later transferred to London. All pilots were dismissed in 2001, and later complained of unfair dismissal and breach of contract in the tribunal, Judge Corkill said.

The tribunal found that pilots were "peripatetic" employees, which meant their work took them to many different places and although they were employed by Cathay Pacific in Hong Kong, the centre of their operations was London, and this was upheld by the House of Lords.

As a result of this case, a review was undertaken by Cathay Pacific to assess all local laws that applied to jurisdictions in which Cathay Pacific and its basing companies operated, Judge Corkill said.

In light of that ruling NZBL reviewed their retirement ages, as every country where crews were based, apart from Hong Kong, had "some form of age discrimination". In some countries, including New Zealand, they increased the retirement age from 55 to 65.

NZBL offered Kiwi pilots, including Mr Brown and Mr Sycamore, the opportunity to transfer to a new employment agreement, which would see them paid at a lower pay scale but be provided for a retirement age of 65.

However, if they did not transfer on to the new agreement, they would have no reduction in salary but would have to retire at 55.

Corporate communication manager international for Cathay Pacific Thomas Lau said the airline was disappointed with the decision.

"We are disappointed that the court did not find in NZBL's favour. We are currently reviewing the decision and considering our options."

Source - The New Zealand Herald