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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cathay Axes 42 Routes In Sick-Out

HONG KONG -- Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific Airways canceled 42 flights Wednesday, more than a quarter of its daily average, as pilots called in sick for a sixth day running in a dispute over proposed pay cuts for air crews.

It was the largest number of cancellations in a single day since Friday, when pilots began calling in sick after a Cathay ultimatum to choose pay cuts, voluntary redundancy or sacking by June 11.

Cathay spokesman Tony Tyler said that 42 flights had been cancelled as of 5 p.m. Wednesday. A total of 109 flights had been scheduled for the day.

The increase in canceled flights, which had been averaging about 30 a day, came a day after the pilots' union, the Aircrew Officers Association, said it would call a strike vote if any pilot was fired after June 11.

The increasingly hostile pay dispute has caused concern in the government, which is grappling with the worst recession in a generation and a shattered tourist industry.

The pilots' union and labor department officials met Wednesday and the government said later it would try to set up a meeting with Cathay and the union to try to settle the dispute.

"The union agrees to participate in a tri-party meeting at any time," Labor Commissioner Matthew Cheung said. "We are now contacting the employer [Cathay Pacific]."

Tyler told a news conference Cathay would decide whether to join tri-party talks after it meets labor department officials Thursday.

Cathay broke off nine weeks of talks last week and set a deadline for its senior pilots to accept a pay cut of seven to 22 percent over three years, take voluntary redundancy or be fired.

Cathay's share price was savaged Monday by the pilots' sick-out, falling more than 8.9 percent to 10.75 Hong Kong dollars (U.S. $1.39), but has recovered a bit. It closed up 3.67 percent on Wednesday at 11.30 Hong Kong dollars.

Tyler said the airline, which had a 1998 loss of 542 million Hong Kong dollars, saw no reason to back down or make major concessions on pay cuts at this point. "We're not in a position to withdraw or change any of the significant elements of the [pay cut] proposal."

Earlier, when asked whether Cathay would be willing to resume talks with pilots, he said: "If the union wants to talk, why didn't they talk to us last July when we first asked them?"